2 0 0 9 P a r i s / M e u d o n

IWCMO Conference

Richard McKIM: E.-M. ANTONIADI, 1870~1944

McKIMs first talk presented at the IWCMO conference, Paris, 18th September 2009



ood morning. It is a great pleasure for me to be able to return to Paris after an interval of over eight years; and it is 14 since I was last in Meudon for the Shoemaker-Levy 9 Jupiter conference. It is wonderful to have met several persons this week whom for years have been only names at the end of letters and emails, as well as other old friends.


Eugne-Michael Antoniadi has a place close to my heart. He was one of the greatest-ever visual observers, and of course he was an artist, historian, architect and linguist too. He directed the work of the BAA Mars Section from 1896 to 1917, as I have done since 1981. We are here today to celebrate what happened at Meudon in 1909 September and to place it in context, so I need to speak a bit in general of Antoniadis life and work. I wrote the great mans biography in 1993, and since then have discovered more, and certainly the internet is a great help in that respect, so some things I say will be new.


Antoniadi was born in 1870 and grew up in what was then called the Tatavala quarter of Constantinople, now Istanbul, Turkey. His family was part of the repressed Greek community of the time, and according to travel writer E. H. Cookridge, that district of the city was actually more of a slum ghetto where the less affluent Greeks were forced to live. We dont know much about his early life. He did not attend University; very likely he had private tutors. There was a brother, Dorotheos, mentioned in letters, but we dont know all of his siblings and relations. We know that his family, like all the other Greeks, disliked and despised the ruling Sultan Abdul Hamid Khan II (nicknamed the Great Assassin by British Prime Minister Gladstone), and no doubt there were tensions between Greek and Turk in those closing decades of the great Ottoman Empire. Nonetheless, Antoniadi had a sound upbringing, and as far as Astronomy goes, he owned a 4-inch refractor by a French optician, and put it to good use, starting his Mars observing in 1888. He began to send his drawings of sunspots and planets to the great Frenchman Camille Flammarion, a flamboyant personality and a prosaic writer and - more to the point - the editor of the Bulletin of the society he had himself created: the Socit Astronomique de France. Flammarion found his work excellent and published a good deal of it. In 1890 he joined the new British Astronomical Association (BAA) in England and was a frequent contributor right from the start. He also visited the famous buildings of his home city and was especially fond of the huge mosque, St Sophia or Hagia Sophia, one of the worlds great buildings, and now a museum. The Turkish tour guides, he wrote, were courteous and helpful, and in the 1890s he published an article on Hagia Sophia in Knowledge, and conceived the plan of writing a book about the mosque. However, such plans were put on hold when in 1893 Flammarion actually invited him to become an observing assistant (and thus to learn the tools and trade of the astronomer) at Juvisy. Antoniadi wasnt the first such Assistant, and Flam (as his wife called him) tended to have more than one at a time.


Antoniadi was already well versed in languages; not only did he know the Classics, but he was fluent (or very nearly so) in French and English. Indeed, he would eventually become a French citizen. The Orient Express direct route to Paris from Constantinople had been completed as recently as 1889, so travel was not difficult, if expensive. So by 1893 August we might suppose that he was buying his ticket for the journey. How convenient to travel door to door from there to the Gare de lEst (then the Gare de Strasbourg), in Paris! He had this photo taken at the photographers of the Compagnie Wagons-Lits Grand Htel Pera (nowadays the Pera Palace).


Now relocated in Juvisy, Antoniadi profited from the use of Flammarions fine 9-in refractor situated on the roof, and also his very extensive library. For Flammarion he made many watercolours, and I can now show you some pictures. Flammarion sent him on the BAA total solar eclipse expedition to Norway in 1896, and there he met for the first time many BAA members, including above all its founder Edward Maunder.


It happened that the Director of the BAA Mars Section had resigned, and Antoniadi was the obvious choice for its successor. Mars was also Flammarions main interest, and his great works on Mars came out in two large volumes in 1892 and 1909. They collaborated on a beautiful Mars globe, now very rare, of which this picture comes from an Austrian dealer on eBay. (It was on offer for some $10,000.) There are two well known SAF members polishing Flammarions globes in the next slide..


Antoniadi got the chance to meet many famous astronomers whilst at Juvisy. In particular, he met Edward Emerson Barnard and Percival Lowell. He also knew Schiaparelli (shown here) through correspondence. By the late 1890s, however, the strong personalities of Antoniadi and Flammarion were beginning to clash. Antoniadi even quarrelled with his close friend the Abb Theophile Moreux, and surely the fault was Antoniadis. In essence, Antoniadi felt that Flammarion took too much credit for his Assistants work, and in 1902 he resigned. Actually his Contract clearly stated that Flammarion could publish what he liked of the copies of the observations that Antoniadi was required to set down in the notebooks preserved to this day in Juvisy. His life changed in another way at that point, for he had met and married Katherine Sevastopoulos, a member of a wealthy Greek family living in Paris. The family also had roots in Constantinople, and the Antoniadi and Sevastopoulos families were well connected with merchants, bankers, even one big arms dealer and even two different European Royal families. A few years ago I was in touch with a descendant of one branch of the Mavrogordato family (which was linked by marriage with the other families), Christopher Long, and he sent me what information he had. The Flammarions attended the wedding. No doubt the need to work for a living evaporated. Finishing off the BAA Mars report for 1901, a magnificent piece of work, Antoniadi did much less astronomy for a time, using only his own 8.5-inch Calver reflector from his flat in Paris, and it seems that other interests intervened.


First, for four months in 1904 he began to work on his St Sophia book, getting special permission from the Sultan to photograph the mosques interior, taking over 1000 photos and as many sketches, and finding someone to finance the rather lavish publication. He made many finished drawings and watercolours. Walter Maunder described Antoniadi as an architect by training, but in fact this was not the case. Antoniadi admitted in his correspondence that he had learnt most of his architecture from personal observation and from an earlier book on St Sophia (The Church of Sancta Sophia, Constantinople; A Study of Byzantine Building) published in 1894 by the British writer William Lethaby (1857-1931), an influential architectural historian. Lethaby and Antoniadi corresponded for several years around 1902-1907.


Second, Antoniadi became seriously interested in Chess. This was a game he had played in his youth, but had not studied seriously until 1903 onwards, and already by 1907 he had won a major tournament in Paris, perhaps the high point of his career in the game, and sufficient for him to be noticed by the British Chess Magazine, from which this contemporary portrait is taken. And so it was that Antoniadi found himself in Athens in 1909 July, playing in another Chess tournament, and so he missed the chance to discover the start of the planet-encircling dust storm of that year.


In fact Antoniadi had done little serious Mars work since 1901. He had observed often enough, and had had a few short papers here and there, but had not written up the final analyses of the observations of himself or his contributors to the BAA Mars Section which now began to accumulate, from 1903 to date. However, things would soon change. Antoniadi returned to Paris in August and found a letter from Rene Jarry-Desloges dated August 4th informing him of the observations of a global yellow veil witnessed by the Fournier brothers at Jarry-Deslogess private observatory in French Algeria. How to confirm it quickly? Antoniadis Calver reflector languished in his flat in the rue Jouffroy, and it was certainly not the ideal place for that fine instrument. But Flammarion invited him to observe from Juvisy, and they agreed to forget past differences. On August 11th Antoniadi could confirm for himself the remarkable faintness of the markings. Heres a sketch he made showing the progressive settling of the dust.


Then there arrived a second invitation: and this time it came from Henri Deslandres, Director of the Meudon observatory. He invited Antoniadi to use the Grande Lunette, with its perfect 33-inch lens by the Henry Brothers. He probably had a similar thrill to that which I experienced in 1984, when on a hot evening of late summer, Jean Dragesco and I were able to observe Jupiter through it, and, even more wonderful, when I was asked back twice in 1988 by Audouin Dollfus for the perihelic opposition of Mars. So Antoniadi went to Meudon and later he even set up a run-off shed for his 8.5-inch on the lawn in front of the dome. On September 19, from Juvisy, he had a good view, and one which I will show you today; he could not possibly know what would await him the following evening.


In my other talk I will speak about the history of the 1909 dust storm compared with 1911, 2001 and 2003. For now, let us say that it was the first planet-encircling event ever to be recorded, and that by mid-September the dust was settling but some suspended dust lingered on into October.


Using the Grande Lunette in 1909 would have been much trickier than it is today. There was no rising floor; rather, a small unsteady-looking platform was hoisted up and down the dome wall. Antoniadis first night was September 20. It was not so transparent that night, and in fact there was a slight fog over the city. Not all was well, though: someone had borrowed most of the eyepieces. Anyway, Antoniadi had the great lens directed towards Mars. When he cast a first glance through the eyepiece, Antoniadi thought he was dreaming. Here is the drawing. For some hours there was perfect seeing, an experience he would never quite repeat in his entire lifetime. What helped for sure was that Mars was east of the meridian. Those who know the Grande Lunette will recall that there is a difference in level between the ground level between the east and west sides of the building so that its great lens is dozens of metres higher above ground on that side of the meridian, and that helps a great deal with the seeing, as I can testify myself. Let me quote you something of Antoniadis descriptive writing: [At this point I quoted from my biography of Antoniadi, published in the BAA Journal, where he speaks of the astonishing degree of detail he witnessed at the eyepiece.]

1909 was a revelation. The resolution of the structure of the markings was apparently first announced in a Greek newspaper, then in the SAF Bulletin and the BAA Journal, and in private correspondence with Barnard, Lowell, Hale, Schiaparelli and so on. Of these sources, the letter to Lowell goes further as you can see by the slide: [At this point I quoted from my biography of Antoniadi, published in the BAA Journal, where he tells Lowell about the tiny streaky features seen at the limit of resolution in perfect seeing, which resemble the tiny bright and dark streaks due to dust deposition and removal on Mars imaged by spacecraft.] Lowell at the time, as you can see here was still drawing geometric canali, and he missed the most obvious change on the surface at this longitude: the huge increase in size of the Lacus Moeris in 1909 compared with 1907. As Antoniadi would discover, his drawings agreed perfectly with Lowell observatorys superb photographs (taken by Earl C. Slipher), and you can see that in the next slide. At the same time, his drawings completely failed to correspond with Lowells own sketches, and here is one of Lowells drawings for 1909 for the same longitude.


Incidentally, it was to be Schiaparelli himself who further dented Lowells ideas; in a forthcoming article in the 2009 October BAA Journal, of which I have preprints today to give out, Bill Sheehan and I will reveal how Schiaparellis final letter to Lowell, untranslated and unpublished until now, points out how the photographic plates used by Slipher had linear defects in them, which tended to produce canal-like markings in the prints. but thats another story. Let me just show two of the best 1907 Slipher pictures here.


Now it has often been asked why this view on September 20 which I show again here - was so definitive. I think it was due to a combination of reasons. After all, underlying fine detail had been suggested at previous perihelic oppositions, such as to Barnard at Lick in 1894. But Barnard had been rather overshadowed by the reports coming from the new Flagstaff observatory, and he lacked Antoniadis skill with the pencil. And earlier still, Lord Rosses giant reflector had resolved the area south of Syrtis Major into tiny spots. Antoniadi represented a combination of key talents: first he was an excellent observer with an acute eye, and he was an accomplished and accurate artist. His reputation in the astronomical world was already well established. It is true that he was a bit out of practice with drawing, but the weeks at Juvisy in August helped, and so had the long and arduous preparation of the St Sophia book. Second, he had the largest telescope in, as he put it, the Old World. What was important was having an excellent night close to opposition (which was on September 24), and Antoniadi had that too. Antoniadi was also fortunate in one other respect, and perhaps here you may not agree with me.


As we see from his letter to Lowell, his drawings actually suggest at the very limit of resolution - windblown streaks of the sort we now associate with dust fallout over cratered terrain. On a large scale, dust obviously lowers contrast and makes the large-scale markings fade. But on a local scale, it can actually reveal by dust removal the presence of small, underlying spotty patches which contrast strongly with the fresh bright dust fallout on the surface nearby. I think this is what had really happened. In particular, dust from the storm had fallen out over Mare Tyrrhenum, enhancing its broken, patchy aspect. The same sort of thing happened after the 2001 global storm, and in fact the areas of Mare Hadriacum, Ausonia Borealis (or Trinacria) and Mare Tyrrhenum, which I show here on a map, all exhibited tiny patchy details at the next opposition as we see so clearly in this Don Parker image from 2003 September. When I saw that image I thought of 1909, and Antoniadis leopard skin spots.


I would like to give one other example of this, in connection with the 2001 storm and the subsequent high resolution observations of 2003 that showed a spottiness in the S. part of the Phasis canal. And here I make a comment from my friend Dr John Rogers: It seems that the new dark Phasis consists of small dark streaks lying in valleys on the SW edge of the Claritas rise. This is one of the most ancient regions on Mars, an eroded mountain range that marks the border of the Sinai/Solis/Thaumasia continent ...Just as the darkest material in this area tends to be in lowland such as the floors of the chaos regions and Valles Marineris and the outflow channels of Lunae Palus and the Solis Lacus depression, so the new dark streaks are in valleys on the slopes of the continent. In fact, though, you can already see this in the USGS map of Mars, which was made from Viking images ... after the 1973 planet-encircling dust storms. So here is another Parker image that shows the effect: patchiness enhanced or revealed by dust excavation and fallout. It just happened that webcam technology arrived in time for amateur astronomers to catch these features at the closest perihelic opposition in telescopic history.


Now this drawing of September 20 was rather crudely reproduced in the 1909 Journals, as we can see from the BAA Journal which I now show you, but it became rather more soft-edged in the final Mars report and in La Plante Mars as we see here. But perhaps the best representation was in Magginis Il Pianeta Marte. We have a colour version too. Antoniadis views in general won ready acceptance amongst English, French and Italian astronomers, and certain influential Americans such as Barnard and Hale. Thus the so-called European School of Mars observers was called the soft pencil school, contrasting sharply with the views maintained at Flagstaff. Of course, the question of the canali would linger on into the 1960s, when Mariner would be the final arbiter. Antoniadi now set to work to write up the backlog of BAA Mars data, and between 1910 and 1916 he published voluminous Memoirs for 1903, 1905, 1907, 1909 and 1911, the 1909 report having one hundred illustrations and a quotation on the front cover by Hale, supporting Antoniadi. Antoniadi also enjoyed superb views of the Solis Lacus and Mare Sirenum regions, but September 20 had been the best night.


Antoniadi got to use the Grande Lunette for Mars again in 1911, when he observed a huge bright cloud over Libya-Isidis Regio. In fact, this was a dust storm, and it led to the darkening of the canal Nepenthes. Antoniadi was also able to watch a regional dust storm in the S. hemisphere, of which there have been many subsequent examples. His was the first map of such an event, and no doubt this one had originated in Hellas. Later, Antoniadi would follow other yellow clouds, as he called them, having already noted their greater frequency around perihelion and measuring their speeds and estimating their height by the projections they made at the terminator of the gibbous disk.


At the 1914 opposition and later the Grande Lunettes dome was closed for repairs for many years, and Antoniadi returned to it only in 1924, and although not a faculty member he appropriately called himself an astronome volontaire. That apparition, the closest of the 20th century, together with the following favourable approach of 1926, was a further revelation, but in a different way. Antoniadi never had the perfect seeing of 1909 but had many fine moments; in particular he used the large aperture to study the apparent colour changes on the surface over a much greater period of time, from 1924 June through to the following January. Ever since N. E. Green and 1877 we know that the blue tint of Syrtis Major must be at least partly due to colour contrast with the orange deserts, but apparent colours are still of great interest and the blueness appears real to the eye, even more so in a large telescope at high power. The markings will change apparent colour if the deserts bordering them also change in tint, say from orange-red to yellow as they do during a dust storm. These variations, together with what at the time looked to be inexplicable alterations in the boundaries of dark markings such as Pandorae Fretum and Nepenthes led Antoniadi to support the popular idea of plant life on the surface. Indeed, the different green tints he saw in 1909 already suggested to him forests of trees in places. In 1930 he was ready with his Magnum Opus on Mars: La Plante Mars, a synthesis and analysis of many years of observations. It would be years before the idea of albedo change being related to dust activity would arise.


Speaking of colour, Antoniadi has left us few coloured Mars drawings. Here is one he presented to a neighbour in rue Jouffroy, the famous 1909 September 20 view, and here is another pastel he did for Barnard. Of the later years I show you this pair from 1933, which you wont have seen, where the Czech astronomer Sadil has coloured Antoniadis drawings according to the latters own notes from the SAF Bulletin. Antoniadi also did a bit of space art, and this view of Mars from Phobos executed in 1926 predates Chesley Bonestell and David Hardy. It seems to show craters, or perhaps mountains, along parts of the terminator, though Antoniadi never directly observed anything of the sort. Finally, under this heading I show you a superb map Antoniadi drew for the Palais de la Decouverte in Paris in 1937. It significantly updates his 1930 map from La Plante Mars, yet it is hardly ever reproduced. I managed to get it published in colour in a Greek edition of National Geographic. So here it is, and afterwards, the famous 1930 map for comparison.


Jupiter and Saturn were not neglected, either. I have no time to tell you much about them now other than to show other fine examples of Antoniadis work. It may be worth stating here that he found that he could draw the tiniest visible detail in Jupiters Great Red Spot in 1927, a year when the red planet wasnt around to hold his attention, but the finest details of Mars defied portrayal on paper even by him. Ganymede he proved to have a captured rotation. I also have no time to discuss Mercury and Venus today, suffice to say that he wrote the first book about Mercury and drew an important map. He also published a book about Egyptian Astronomy.


Antoniadi was a rather private man. He was an excellent correspondent but didnt go to many astronomical meetings, at least not after his marriage. One organisation wanted to send him to a convention in Leyden, but he simply replied that he was not the man for such meetings: working alone and in private was what he liked most. He preferred a small number of close friends or correspondents, and occasionally held a soire in his Paris appartment. In his later years these friends included, above all, F. Qunisset at Meudon, Madame Flammarion at Juvisy, his Meudon colleague F. Baldet, and in England Henry McEwen, T. E. R. Phillips, Mrs Walter Maunder, R. L. Waterfield and B. M. Peek. The Antoniadis lived in better districts of Paris, and I once checked out two of them, the rue Jouffroy and Antoniadis last residence in the rue Saussier-Leroy. He always dressed meticulously, perhaps more resembling an undertaker than an astronomer. He wore small round spectacles, and was in the habit of carrying an old pair with the left lens blacked out so the left eye could remain open whilst observing. We therefore can see him dressed rather formally upon the platform of the Grande Lunette in 1924 and 1925, with thinning white hair, then in his mid-fifties, but he still seems to have a commanding presence. His hat is stacked together with Baldets on the table, and he holds a sketch pad. Gerard de Vaucouleurs once told me that Antoniadi tended to make small regional sketches to combine into a finished drawing.


Meanwhile, the chess tournaments had continued till at least 1922. Antoniadi had his own strong ideas about the game, and he was heavily criticised for some outspoken articles he wrote in the chess magazines, so much so that he retired from the game, and was believed in chess circles to have died in the early 1930s.


Antoniadi also became involved with St Sophia again, and these details are given in a 1983 Greek reprint of the three-volume book. He met in 1935 a Professor Georgios Aeranitidis (1876-1953), medieval expert, collector, and fellow ex-citizen of Constantinople, who was interested in the original material on St Sophia. Apparently Antoniadi agreed to this request and the photographs, etc., were sent to him. Years later the Aeranitidis collection of Antoniadis photographs was gifted to the University of Kethimnon, Crete. The Academy of Athens, in another collection of the same benefactor, apparently has a unique reworking of one of the earliest publications of Antoniadi in this St Sophia series (that of 1906, a volume of drawings printed before the three main books that were published consecutively in 1907, 1908 and 1909), with the material produced purely for Aeranitidiss own library. (Aeranitidis was apparently the man who paid for one of the St Sophia volumes to be published, the original benefactor having died before 1909.)


Antoniadi focused mainly on Astronomy during what would be the last decade of his life, even if after 1933 he was less productive with Mars. He started late at the 1935 opposition because the Grande Lunette had been doing spectroscopic work on Nova Herculis for many months. Henri Camichel told me years later that he felt sorry to have deprived Antoniadi of the observing time, but the spectrograph was constantly attached rather than the eyepiece, and in any case Antoniadi made good use of the time in writing his final books and working with the St Sophia benefactor. The year 1937 found the planet frustratingly low, but we see here the drawings he sent to the BAA, and we have the originals in our archives. 1939 was even more of a washout, and then came WW2.


In 1941 Antoniadi observed the red planet for the last time on just three nights, despite the evening curfew, probably having to stay overnight at the observatory and go home next morning. In his earlier visits he had made frequent use of the Hotel de la Gare, Meudon val Fleury. But then in the Autumn of 1943 the German occupiers set up a gun battery near the observatory, and the staff decided it was time to remove the object glass for the duration. So no-one looked at Mars from Meudon in 1943. In any case, Antoniadis health was failing. There was a final photograph, actually one given to Baldets daughters in 1944 January and now in the archives at Meudon, and this shows him in old age.


Antoniadi was always a little paranoid about his health. In 1894 November he and Moreux had stayed out late observing an aurora for several hours together, and Antoniadi was in bed for weeks with the flu, and actually at one point despaired of his life. In 1940 he gave minute advice in a letter to B. M. Peek about the heart rate of his dear old friend, the Rev T. E. R. Phillips (1868-1942) and advised him what he considered a safe heart rate to stick to. Did Antoniadi also have some heart condition? Whatever the case, he became ill of what his Obituary described as an incurable condition. The winter of 1943 was very hard on the Parisians. Not only was it the coldest winter of the War, but the occupying forces had allowed only one delivery of fuel to the citys population. Antoniadi died in a hospital in 1944 February 10, one conveniently situated in the same street as his flat. His death certificate does not give the cause of death, merely the names of his wife and parents, and the dates of birth and death. No trace was found of his lifetimes observations, but some detailed documentation on the history of Astronomy and a volume of copies of outgoing letters did find their way into the archives of the Paris observatory. He and Katherine had no children. I attempted to find his burial place in 1993, but had no reply from the Paris authorities.


Antoniadi was a remarkable, if solitary, genius. An architect, an observer, historian, linguist and artist. He was a man of his time, and he wanted to leave his mark on the science and history of Astronomy, and that he certainly did. Today we celebrate his great contributions to planetary science. Let me end by quoting from Antoniadi after his first experiences with the Grande Lunette: Science owes much to the great French Observatories, which, apart from the admirable, regular work done by them, keep their doors open to all amateurs intending to undertake some serious investigation. May it long continue.


Thank you.


Richard McKIM, Director, the BAA Mars Section

Back to the Index