Anders Celsius was a Swedish mathematician and astronomer. As a professor of astronomy at one of the world’s most prominent universities, he also visited notable observatories across Europe.
He is also famous for inventing the Celsius temperature scale.
Many historians believe that Celsius achieved much greater things than this, so let’s explore what we don’t know about one of history’s greatest figureheads.
Anders Celsius: 11 facts about the inventor of the Celsius scale.
1. He came from a smart family.
Anders Celsius was born in Uppsala, Sweden in 1701. He was raised Lutheran. His father—Nils Celsius—was a professor of astronomy. Both his grandfathers were professors of mathematics and astronomy, an interesting fact about Anders Celsius.
He developed their love of science and math, and studied at Uppsala University, where she showed extraordinary talent. He was appointed secretary of the Royal Society of Sciences in 1725—and retained this title until his death almost 20 years later.
He became its professor of astronomy in 1730, succeeding his father.
2. He was driven to explain his questions about our planet.
During the early 1730s, English and European astronomers were debating the shape of the earth. Isaac Newton believed the earth is an ellipsoid, and not a perfect sphere. To resolve the ongoing argument, teams of researchers were sent around the globe to carry out further studies—specifically to measure the latitudes of meridians.
Anders Celsius was given the role of assistant to Pierre Louis de Maupertuis, and they headed to the North Pole. De Maupertuis’ team gathered geographical data to compare with data taken near the equator and South Pole.
The data collected by the scientists confirmed Isaac Newton’s theories about the shape of the earth. This had a profound impact on geographic studies and future research, and brought Anders Celsius to prominence.
3. His work won him funding for a new observatory.
The funding allowed Uppsala University to build a state of the art observatory in 1741—it was named the Celsius Observatory. Tools and instruments from the research trip Anders had taken around notable European observatories were used at what became known as the most advanced observatory of its time.
4. He published ground-breaking research.
One of his major published articles outlined research he had conducted to measure the distance from the Earth to the sun, a fascinating fact about Anders Celsius. The study—originally titled Nova Methodus distantiam solis a terra determinandi—gained massive attention throughout Europe and England.
5. He was fascinated with aurora borealis.
Aurora borealis—the phenomenon also known as the northern lights—held great interest for Anders Celsius. He was the first person to theorize that the northern lights were linked to the magnetic field of the Earth. He published extensive observations and notes taken by himself and his associates between 1716 and 1732. Because of his work in advancing awareness of aurora borealis, he became a Royal Society fellow.
6. He proved that Sweden was rising.
As part of his research into geographical measurements, Anders Celsius was able to demonstrate that Sweden is gradually rising above sea level. He theorized that this was due to evaporation. Modern science has shown that the actual cause is post-glacial rebound. This means that the thick ice which covered northern regions during the ice age is melting, and no longer weighing down the Earth’s crust in those areas.
7. His invention helped scientists for centuries
The eponymous Celsius temperature scale was the first to allow detailed measurement of temperature, and is widely considered to be more precise than both the Fahrenheit scale—invented by Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit—or the Reaumur scale—invented by Rene-Antoine Ferchault de Reamur.
Anders Celsius created his temperature scale using a mercury thermometer in 1742, an interesting fact about Anders Celsius. It breaks up the temperature between freezing (0 degrees C) and boiling (100 degrees C) into 100 equal points. It was also reversed to create the centigrade scale, and adopted internationally in 1948 as a standard form of measurement.
The creation of Celsius’ temperature scale is used worldwide to create a uniform system for replicating experiments and results, making it one of the most valuable discoveries in scientific history.
8. He was a prolific publisher.
In addition to his publication on aurora borealis, Celsius published papers at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and authored more than 20 astronomy dissertations. He wrote a popular children’s book, ‘Arithmetics for the Swedish Youth,” and had begun to pen a science fiction novel before his death.
9. He never stopped star-gazing.
Celsius made numerous astrological observations throughout his career. He devised his own system of measurement, which required using a system of transparent glass plates to compare magnitudes. The more plates required to block out the light of any star, the brighter the star. Through this method, he catalogued the magnitudes of over 300 different stars, including Sirius.
10. He was a fan of the Gregorian calendar.
Anders Celsius was widely acknowledged for his vocal support of the Gregorian calendar. He was adamant that it should be adopted by Sweden in the decade leading up to his death. Nine years later, his wish came true.
He also created a series of geographical measurements for the Swedish general map.
11. He had more unpublished work left to release.
Anders Celsius died of tuberculosis at the age of 42. A draft of his first novel was discovered in his belongings, along with multiple research projects. Had he not become sick in 1744, who knows what he could have achieved.
It is surprising to know that Anders Celsius is mostly known for the temperature measurement system of the same name—especially with the multiple discoveries he made in his short life.
As a prominent astronomer and historical figure, he is also widely credited for the part he has played in establishing the shape of the Earth, for his understanding of the Earth’s magnetic force, and for forms of measurement that were long used in understanding the magnitude of the stars.
From children’s books to scientific journals to the internationally used temperature system, Anders Celsius has been influencing how we learn for over 200 years.
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