Pigott's discovery of M64

Edward Pigott discovered M64 on March 23, 1779, just 12 days before Johann Elert Bode found this "nebula" on April 4 of the same year, and roughly a year before Charles Messier independently rediscovered it on March 1, 1780, and cataloged it as M64.

Pigott's position of M64, preceded to epoch J2000.0, is RA 12:56:46, Dec +21:41.4, and thus very close to the modern position, RA 12:56:44, Dec +21:40.9.

Pigott's discovery of M64 was published only in 1781 due to unknown reasons. Although this appeared in the Philosophical Transactions (Pigott 1781), and was mentioned in Lalande's Bibliographie Astronomique of 1803 (Lalande 1803), it was more or less ignored for more than a century when in 1907, apparently Bigourdan was the first to identify Pigott's nebula with M64 (Bigourdan 1917). It was further ignored until very recently in the standard treats of celestial discovery: Although the discovery of the "nebula" is occasionally mentioned, e.g. in the British "Dictionary of National Biography" (Clerk 1896), "The Dictionary of Scientific Biography" (Kopal), and e.g. McConnell and Brech (1999), it appears that besides Bigourdan's early mention, the identity of Pigott's nebula was never verified until April, 2002. At that time, Bryn Jones analysed the original Pigott paper, caused by an email inquiry by Martin Lunn. He identified the nebula straightforwardly; an account is given in his biographical webpage:

  • Nathaniel and Edward Pigott Biographies, by Bryn Jones

    Printed in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol. LXXI (1781), p. 82-83.

    [VII.] Account of a Nebula in Coma Berenices. By Edward Pigott, Esq. In a Letter to Nevil Maskelyne, D.D.F.R.S. and Astronomer Royal

    Read January 11, 1781.

    Frampton House, Glamorganshire,
    September 3, 1779.

    Rev. Sir,

    As my father generally addresses to you such papers as he communicated to the Royal Society, I beg the favour of you to acquaint the learned body, that, on the 23rd of March [1779], I discovered a nebula in the constellation of Coma Berenices, hitherto, I presume, unnoticed; at least not mentioned in M. de la Lande's Astronomy, nor in M. Messier's ample Catalogue of nebulous Stars [of 1771]. I have observed it in an acromatic instrument, three feet long, and deduced its mean R.A. by comparing it to the following stars, having made the necessary corrections for aberration and nutation, the results are:

                                                     d  '  "
    By Delta Gamini      -      -      -      -     191 28 35
    By Gamma Canis Majoris      -      -      -     191 28 41
    By Epsilon Virginis  -      -      -      -     191 28 45
    By Nu Virginis       -      -      -      -     191 28 36
    By Delta Leonis      -      -      -      -     191 28 34
    Mean R.A. of the nebula for April 20, 1779, 191 28 38
    Its light being exceedingly weak, I could not see it in the two-feet telescope of our quadrant, so was obliged to determine its declination likewise by the transit instrument. The determination, however, I believe, may be depended upon to two minutes: hence, the declination north is 22d 53"1/4 [sic]. The diameter of this nebula I judged to be about two minutes of a degree.

    I am, & c.,

    E. Pigott

    Postscriptum: The present author [hf] has missed the recovery of Pigott's discovery only closely; having retrieved Pigott's publications list already some time ago, and already wondered on the title, he simply didn't find time for a closer investigation of this article. Then, when he found time, and caused by a kind hint by Fabio Zugno, he stumbled over Bryn's webpage, and before completely reading, re-analysed Pigott's position, certainly recovering and verifying Bryn's earlier findings.


    Hartmut Frommert
    Christine Kronberg

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    Created July 2002.
    Last Modification: December 8, 2005