Two opportunities to celebrate astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard at Dyer Observatory Nov. 1 and 2

Dyer Observatory is offering two opportunities for the public, astronomers and aspiring young scientists to pay tribute to the 150th birthday of Nashville’s own Edward Emerson Barnard, one of the leading astronomers of the 19th century.

Born into poverty in Nashville in 1857, Barnard originally worked as a photographer before becoming an astronomer. He is known for the discovery of at least eight comets as well as Amalthea, the fifth moon of Jupiter. Amateur astronomers in Nashville raised money and gave it to Barnard for a fellowship to study at Vanderbilt. Barnard never graduated, but he did receive the only honorary degree Vanderbilt has ever awarded.

Combining his photography roots with his success in astronomy, he began to take numerous, amazing photographs of the Milky Way, which were published as Photographic Atlas of Selected Regions of the Milky Way.

Dyer Observatory will host a free tribute and reception on Thursday, Nov. 1, from 5-7:30 p.m., in Room 126 in Wilson Hall on the Vanderbilt University campus. Dr. William P. Sheehan, noted historian and Barnard biographer, will join Vanderbilt astronomy professors Bob O’Dell and David Weintraub in a tribute to the “man who made the astronomical world his debtor.” Barnard’s life will be examined – his humble beginnings, his historic findings, his time at Vanderbilt and his famous photographs of the Milky Way.

The public is invited for a light hors d’oeuvres reception at 5 p.m. preceding the lecture which will begin at 6 p.m. Reservations are appreciated and may be made by e-mailing

On Friday, Nov. 2, the public – particularly aspiring young scientists in middle and high school – is invited to come to Dyer Observatory at 7 p.m. for free birthday cake and a retrospective of Barnard’s life. Sheehan will share the stage with O’Dell, who came from a modest background to become the lead scientist for creating the Hubble Space Telescope. Their twin life stories serve at once as testament and inspiration for students contemplating a life of science and exploration. For reservations, please e-mail

The observatory is located at 1000 Oman Drive, off Granny White Pike between Old Hickory Boulevard and Otter Creek Road, near Radnor Lake.

Media Contact: Missy Pankake, (615) 322-NEWS

Explore Story Topics