Thomas Harriot: The first man to map the Moon

Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal, 18, 2009

Galileo is normally credited with being the first astronomer to map the moon, but Thomas Harriot, a protégé of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, was observing the moon through a telescope from the grounds of Syon House several months before Galileo made his observations. Harriot’s first sketch of the moon is dated 26 July 1609, and he went on to produce further and more detailed maps of the moon’s surface, identifying mountains, craters and ‘seas’. Harriot’s maps remained the most accurate lunar depictions for several centuries.

In his younger days Harriot had taught Ralegh navigation, and sailed with him to Virginia, and is credited with helping him to introduce tobacco into England. In the 1590s the Earl became Harriot’s patron and granted him an annual pension of £80 and a house in the grounds of Syon, from where he carried out his research and writing, becoming one of the most eminent mathematicians, scientists and astronomers of his day.

To celebrate the 400th anniversary of Harriot’s achievements a memorial will be unveiled close to the site of his first lunar observations in the grounds of Syon House on 26 July 2009. More information is available on the website

Carolyn Hammond

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