Scientific Papers

The published output of the Royal Observatory falls into six categories: 

Observations and associated catalogues, Annals, Bulletins and Circulars
Annual Reports
Scientific Papers
The Nautical Almanac and associated tables, along with the later spin off volumes
Notes, Reports, Manuals, house journals, etc
Visitor Guides and material for non-professionals

This section deals with the Scientific Papers.

Until the founding of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1820, the bulk of the scientific papers had been published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. As more learned societies and journals came into existence the choice of where to publish widened further.

Over his lifetime, the Astronomer Royal George Airy (1810–1892) published, (according to his autobiography) a total of 518 papers:

  • 30 in the Transactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society 
  • 29 iIn the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society
  • 9 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society
  • 35 in the Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society
  • 129 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
  • 32 in the Philosophical Magazine and Journal
  • 55 in the Athenaeum
  • 58 in Encyclopedias, and in various Newspapers and Transactions
  • 141 in Official Reports, Addresses, Parliamentary Returns, Evidence before Committees, Lectures, Letters, Sundry Treatises, and Papers.

As the scientific staff of the Observatory grew in number, so too did the number of papers produced. With the move to Herstmonceux, the number of papers began to increase dramatically. By the early 1980s, when the staffing was at a peak, around 100 papers were published each year.

When Woolley announced his new policy on publications, from 1956 onwards, many important papers that would previously have been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society appeared instead in the Royal Observatory Greenwich Bulletins. There are two, not incompatible stories doing the rounds, as to why Woolley introduced the change. Wilkins/Sadler suggest it was prompted by the adverse criticisms of a referee of one of Woolley’s own research papers. Pagel suggests that Woolley was influenced by his new Senior Principal Scientific Officer, Olin Eggen, who maintained that it was the policy at the Lick Observatory (which he had just left) for all scientific papers to appear in in-house publications. Both Wilkins and Pagel agree that the policy was pretty disastrous as it restricted access to the papers – the Bulletins having a more restricted circulation than the established journals.  Such was the state of confusion in the wider astronomical community that in 1962, an explanation of the Observatory’s publishing policy along with abstracts of all the bulletins published so far was printed in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. In the mid 1960s, the policy of not publishing in the Monthly Notices was reversed. 

The titles of the various papers published between 1948 and 1987 can be found in the annual reports. Many can be accessed via NASA's Astrophysics Data System.