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December 31st marks the end of another year and the passing of John Flamsteed. Flamsteed was an English astronomer and the first Astronomer Royal. He was the primary force behind the construction of the Greenwich Observatory and was responsible for gathering precise measurements of nearly 3,000 star positions to aid navigators with the determination of longitude while at sea.

He used his own money to equip the observatory and perform his task of creating the star catalog. This would later cause a rift between himself and the Royal Society's president, Issac Newton. Newton wanted access to Flamsteed's data on lunar orbits for his Principia. Flamsteed did not want to release his data until it was complete but gave Newton the information with the understanding it was to be for his use only. Newton got Edmund Halley to publish Flamsteed's star catalog without his knowledge. Newton felt that any data gathered by the Royal Observatory belonged to the Royal Society and he could publish without Flamsteed's consent. Flamsteed felt the data belonged to him since he did the work with his instruments and the tables were incomplete. Flamsteed managed to collect 300 of the 400 copies of Halley's publication and publicly burned them.

Flamsteed would eventually release his tables before his death in 1719. It was later determined his tables contained a star he named 34 Tauri which would be the earliest observation of the planet Uranus. Find out what else occurred on this day in science history.


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