Astronomer. The last of the great "naked eye" astronomers, he is best remembered as the founder of lunar topography and described ten new constellations, seven of which are still recognized by modern astronomers. His parents were German-speaking Lutherans and wealthy brewing merchants. As a young boy he attended a local grammar school where he learned mathematics and astronomy and his parents sent him away to learn the Polish language. In 1630 he attended Leiden University in the Netherlands where he studied law and four years later he returned to his home in Gdansk where he became a member of the beer-brewing guild, brewing his famous Jopen beer in keeping with the family tradition. While he was active in the local municipal administration as a councilor and mayor, he also had a keen interest in astronomy. In 1641 he built an observatory on the roofs of his three connected houses and equipped it with various instruments, which he designed and constructed himself, including a large telescope 150 feet in focal length, with a wood and wire tube that may have been the longest "tubed" telescope ever built. His observatory would be visited by Polish royalty over the years and his family was raised to the position of nobility. Because of his status, he was permitted to sell his beer outside the city limits and was not taxed on his brewery operations. In 1664 he was elected as a Fellow of the English Royal Society and in 1679 English astronomer Edmond Halley visited him at the request of the Royal Society to settle a dispute with English physicist Robert Hooke over the accuracy of his astronomical observations. Hevelius did not use a telescope to obtain his astronomical measurements and Halley tried to persuade him to do so for this purpose but he proved to Halley's satisfaction that he could perform quality observations by using only a quadrant and alidade. From 1642 to 1645 he observed and studied sunspots and spent four years charting the lunar surface of the Moon, publishing his results in "Selenographia, sive Lunae Descripto" in 1647. From 1652 to 1677 he discovered four new comets, theorizing they revolve around the Sun in parabolic paths. On September 26, 1679 tragedy struck when his observatory and its contents were destroyed by fire. He quickly repaired the damage sufficiently enough for him to observe the Great Comet of 1680 (also known as Kirch's Comet), discovered by Gottfried Kirch on November 14, 1680. He discovered and named the constellation Sextans in memory of his astrological instruments that were destroyed in the fire. In late 1683 he discovered and named the constellation Scutum Sobiescianum (Sobieski's Shield) in commemoration of the Victory of Christian forces led by Polish King John III Sobieski at the Battle of Vienna in Austria. This constellation appeared in his star atlas "Firmamentum Sobiescianum," that he printed at his home, in which he spared no expense. His health started to decline after the fire that destroyed his observatory and he died at his home on his 76th birthday. In Poland he is known by the name of Jan Heweliusz. On January 28, 2006, on the 395th anniversary of his birth, a monument in his honor was unveiled in Gdansk.
Bio by: William Bjornstad