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You are in: Guernsey > People > Profiles > Guernsey's man of stars and science

Guernsey's man of stars and science

While his father Thomas remains a well known local name, thanks to the pub in town and his face on the old five pound note, Warren De La Rue has been somewhat forgotten despite his formidable scientific legacy.

Warren De La Rue

Warren De La Rue

Warren De La Rue was born in Guernsey on 18 January 1815, the son of Thomas De La Rue, and was schooled in Paris at the Collège Sainte-Barbe.

Following his education he relocated to London, where his father had moved in 1821, and joined the printing business that still bears his surname and while there he invented the first envelope making machine, marking the start of a remarkable string of inventions and discoveries.

It was while working for his father's company that Warren began his work on more scientific pursuits initially focusing on chemical and electrical research.

Moon photograph

A photo of the moon taken by Warren from 1858

Astronomical discoveries

The influence of John Nasmyth led to him beginning to work in astronomy and constructed his own 13 inch telescope which he used to observe and illustrate celestial bodies.

It was this that led to his most influential work when in 1851 he saw a Daguerreotype (early form of photograph) of the Moon by G.P. Bond at The Great Exhibition. This image inspired him to use a 'wet-collodion' process to obtain even more detailed images of the Moon's surface including stereoscopic photographs.

After imaging the Moon Warren turned his attention to solar physics which involved his development of another form of astronomical imaging in 1854.

To chart changes in the surface of the sun De La Rue devised the photoheliograph which was inaugurated at Kew in 1858 and used there for the following 14 years to study the sun.

Solar eclipse

Warren's image of a solar eclipse in 1860

In 1860 a total solar eclipse took place and Warren took the photoheliograph to Spain to record images of the event for the first time. These images proved beyond doubt the solar character of the prominences, or red flames, seen around the limb of the Moon during an eclipse.

Following this work he retired from active astronomical research and donated his equipment to the university observatory at Oxford.

Throughout his life he continued his work in chemistry which led to him being named president of the Chemical Society twice as well as being president of the Royal Astronomical Society between 1864 and 1866. He was also honoured by the Royal Society of London and the French Académie des Sciences.

Drawing of a solar eclipse

Drawing of a solar eclipse from 1860

Moon crater

Due to his work creating images of the moon a crater, or more accurately several merged craters, were named De La Rue in Warren's honour.

Comprising a number of craters that have, over the years, become one, De La Rue is located in the northeastern part of the Moon on the near side, just beyond the eastern extreme of Mare Frigoris.

Light bulb

Whilst many sources report Warren De La Rue created a form of light bulb, David Le Conte, who has spent a lot of time researching the man and his work and helped us compile this article, has found no proof of this.

Image credit: Royal Astronomical Society

last updated: 20/07/2009 at 16:47
created: 22/04/2009

You are in: Guernsey > People > Profiles > Guernsey's man of stars and science

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