Astronomische Beschreibung und Nachricht von dem Cometen 1746

Kindermann, Eberhard Christian  (fl. 1740)

Astronomische Beschreibung und Nachricht von dem Cometen 1746.  Und denen Noch Kommenden, Welche in denen Innen Besagten Jahren Erscheinen Werden

Dresden: Gottlob Christian Hilscher, 1746

[4], 14 p.  Engraved frontispiece

Kindermann 1

This rare publication describes in some detail a spectacular comet (allegedly one of the five brightest ever seen) that appeared in the year 1746.  It was first discovered by the Swiss astronomer Phillippe Loys De Chéseaux, and is designated by modern astronomers as C/1746:P1.  Kindermann’s pamphlet, the title of which can be translated as “Astronomical Description and Information Concerning the Comet of 1746,” besides commenting on that celestial body, attempts to show that it is the same comet that appeared earlier in 1682.  In addition, details are given about other periodic comets along with the dates of their expected return.  Kindermann either was unaware of, or chose to ignore, Edmond Halley’s published computations (in 1708) that in reality the comet of 1682 would not appear again until 1758.

Not a great deal is known about Kindermann.  In the 1740s he was the royal astronomer and mathematician to the Elector of Saxony, Friedrich Christian Leopold Johann Georg Franz Xaver von Sachsen.  He was the author of at least two other astronomical books, one of which was a lengthy treatise, Complete Astronomy (1744).  He is probably better known, at least among science fiction aficionados, as the author of Reise in Gedancken durch die Eröffneten Allgemeinen Himmels-Kugeln (1739) that uses an imaginary voyage through space to popularize astronomy, with creative speculations on the inhabitants of other planets.

Kindermann 2

A Martian Discovery?

In the attractive copperplate engraving that Kindermann uses as his frontispiece, he shows a portion of the solar system that includes the orbits of the Earth and its moon, as well as that of Mars and three comets.  What is remarkable—and perhaps an astronomical mystery—is that Kindermann shows Mars with its own single satellite, with the legend, “Path of the Martian moon discovered by the author [Kindermann] on 10 July 1744.”

Kindermann 3

It is quite remarkable because the two moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, were not officially discovered until 1877.  A telescope powerful enough to detect these two small bodies orbiting close to the planet did not exist in 1744.  This claim of Kindermann was not mentioned in the scientific literature until 1892 when Ralph Copeland’s “On a Pretended Early Discovery of a Satellite of Mars” appeared in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Interestingly, Jonathan Swift in his Gulliver’s Travels (1726) posits the existence of two Martian moons in the chapter, “Voyage to Laputa,” and his speculations about them are astonishingly close to their actual specifications.