Tobias Mayer

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Tobias Mayer

(extended biography)

The lunar crater T. Mayer is named after the German astronomer Johann Tobias Mayer 17 February 1723 – 20 February 1762.

  • Note: Tobias Mayer had a mathematician son (1752-1830) with the same name: Johann Tobias Mayer. "Johann" is normally omitted in referring to the father and used in referring to the son.


Mayer rose from humble beginnings to become a professor at the Georg-August Academy in Göttingen, and one of the most renowned astronomers of his day. Mostly self taught, especially in mathematics, his aptitudes for architectural drawing and map-making were recognized at an early age. His first book on the solution of geometrical problems was published at around the age of 18. Among other accomplishments, he is noted for developing the most accurate lunar ephemeris of his day (his Lunar Tables), and the first lunar map on which features were placed at geometrically determined positions. Much of his work was left unpublished at his death.

Lunar Contributions

  • Mayer's interest in the Moon was aroused primarily by his wish to use it to obtain better longitudes for preparing terrestrial maps, and his elaborate analysis of the Moon's position relative to the stars was undertaken for the purpose. Mayer was the first to attempt to assign definite positions to observable features relative to a system of longitude and latitude corrected for libration, the positions being wanted so they could be used for interpreting the timing of events seen during lunar eclipses. His primary lunar mapping effort took place in connection with the eclipse of August 8-9 1748, for which he was preparing a detailed map. The measurements were made with an eyepiece micrometer, and supplemented by drawings which he used to prepare a posthumously-engraved map of the Moon at zero libration. The map appeared in the Opera Inedita published by his colleague Lichtenberg in 1775. According to Whitaker (page 83) Mayer measured 23 primary points at the eyepiece and Lichtenberg added coordinates for 66 more formations based on their positions relative to the measured points on the map. Lichtenberg also compiled a list of the names he thought all 89 formations were known under in the systems of Riccioli and Hevelius. The Opera Inedita engraving and nomenclature list was re-engraved and re-printed by Johann Schröter (who used it as the basis of his own nomenclature) in 1791, and again by the Milanese publisher Ubaldo Villa in 1820. Mayer's map is also said to be the basis for Gruithuisen's map of 1821, and others that followed from it.
    • Mayer's 20 cm map from his Opera Inedita can be seen as Figure 52 in Whitaker and as Figure 3 in Pigatto and Zanini (1999)
    • The "45-cm" map by Ernst Klinkerfuess, published 1881, can be seen as Figure 1.22 (p. 26) in Kopal and Carder, 1974
  • According to Neison, 1876 (page 90), Mayer's original intention was a publish a map in 25 sections. Neison also reports only three of the positional measurements were repeated enough times to be of high accuracy, but on the whole Mayer's positions for the 24 primary and 63 secondary spots were good to about 1° in lunar longitude and latitude.


  • Mayer, Tobias. 1767. Theoria lunæ juxta systema Newtonianum. Auctore Tobia Mayer. Edita jussu Præfectorum Rei Longitudinariæ. Londini: typis Gul. Richardson et S. Clark; prostat venalis apud Johannem Nourse, Johannem Mount et Thomam Page.
  • Mayer, Tobias, and Georg Christoph Lichtenberg. 1775. Tobiae Mayeri ... Opera inedita: vol. I. Commentationes Societati Regiae scientiarvm oblatas, qvae integrae svpersvnt, cvm tabvla selenographica complectens. Gottingae: Apud Joann. Christian. Dieterich.
  • Mayer, Tobias. 1881. Tobias Mayer's grössere mondkarte nebst detailzeichnungen, zum ersten male hrsg. von der Königlichen sternwarte zu Göttingen. Göttengen: Univ.-buchdr. von E.A. Huth.
  • Mayer, Tobias, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, and Eric G. Forbes. 1971. Tobias Mayer's Opera inedita: the first translation of the Lichtenberg edition of 1775. [London]: Macmillan.
  • Mayer, Tobias, and Eric G. Forbes. 1972. The unpublished writings of Tobias Mayer. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
    Page 12, and associated notes, of the Introduction gives the following information about Mayer's map:
    • The original was 40 cm in diameter
    • The version appearing in Lichtenberg's Opera inedita was engraved at half-scale by Joel Paul Kaltenhofer.
    • The 1881 photo-lithographic reproduction of the original map, and 40 drawings used in preparing it, was published by Wilhelm Klinkerfues, Director of the Göttingen Observatory (the map and two of the drawings reportedly appear as illustrations in Forbes, 1969).
    • A lunar globe based on the same observations was incomplete at the time of Mayer's death.


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