|Pierre Méchain (1744-1804))|
Pierre Méchain was born in Laon, a medieval town in the Picardy region of northern France, as the son of the ceiling designer and plasterer Pierre François Méchain, a man of modest means, and Marie-Marguerite Roze. Pierre was educated by the Jesuits and as a young boy his aim was to become an architect, although his main hobby was astronomy. Méchain studied at the prestigious institution of the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, founded to train civil engineers. But, studying there was expensive and Méchain's father did not have the necessary resources to be able to support his son. Thus, Méchain had to interrupt his studies and take on the role of tutor to two young boys from a noble family.
However, his talents in astronomy were noticed by Joseph Jérôme Lalande, for whom he became a friend and proof-reader of the second edition of his book "L'Astronomie". Seeing the benefits of having Méchain enter his profession, Lalande arranged a position for him in the cartography department in the Depôt de la Marine in Versailles in 1772 as assistant hydrographer, where he worked through the 1770s engaged in hydrographic work and coastline surveying. It was during this time that he met Charles Messier, who worked in the same department and apparently, they became friends. In the same year, he also produced his first astronomical work, a paper on an occultation of Aldebaran by the Moon and presented it as a memoir to the Academy of Sciences.
|M101 - discovered by Pierre Méchain on March 27, 1781,|
He was admitted to the French Académie des sciences in 1782, and was the editor of Connaissance des Temps from 1785 to 1792; this was the journal which, among other things, first published the list of Messier objects. In 1789 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Méchain's most important mapping work was geodetic: the determination of the southern part of the meridian arc of the Earth's surface between Dunkirk and Barcelona beginning in 1791. This measurement would become the basis of the metric system's unit of length, the meter. He encountered numerous difficulties on this project, largely stemming from the effects of the French Revolution. He was arrested after it was suspected his instruments were weapons, he was interned in Barcelona after war broke out between France and Spain, and his property in Paris was confiscated during The Terror. He was released from Spain to live in Italy, then returned home in 1795.
In 1799, he became the director of the Paris Observatory. Continuing doubts about his measurements of the Dunkirk-Barcelona arc led him to return to that work. This took him back to Spain in 1804, where he caught yellow fever and died.
At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture at Gresham College titled 'Clusters of Galaxies' by Carolin Crawford.
References and Further Reading:
-  Pierre François-André Méchain at MacTutor's History of Mathematics
-  Pierre Méchain at Britannica.com
- Charles Messier and the Nebulae
- Jean Picard and his Love for Accuracy
- Regiomontanus - Forerunner of Modern Astronomy
- Caroline Herschel - Comet Sweeper
- Christiaan Huygens and the Discovery of Saturn Moon Titan
- Giovanni Cassini and Saturn Moon Rhea
- Tycho Brahe - The Man with the Golden Nose
- Friedrich Bessel and the Distances of Stars
- Edmund Halley and his famous Comet
- And yet it moves - Galileo Galilei and his major achievements
- The Supernova of 1054
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