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Saturday, February 6, 2016

What's Brewing in Gdańsk

If you spend any amount of time researching the history of famous astronomers of the past you can discover some surprising aspects about that person. Quite often astronomers (and scientists in general) of centuries ago were multi-talented individuals, born out of the necessity to support themselves with a living while they pursued their studies.

Image of Hevelius monument in Gdańsk
Hevelius monument in Gdańsk
Today we will look at one such individual: Johannes Hevelius (or Jan Heweliusz  in Polish) was an astronomer who lived between 1611 and 1687 in Danzig (now Gdańsk in Poland). Although he took part in local municipal administration activities, his main interests lied in astronomy. Building an observatory on his roof known as Sternenburg or "Star Castle", his studies there drew notice from Polish royalty and other astronomers like Edmond Halley, among others. Known for his naked eye observations, he published star atlases which included seven constellations that he invented that are still in use today:
  • Scutum: The shield, in honor of King John III Sobieski of Poland who helped Jan rebuild his observatory after a fire
  • Sextans: The sextant, in commemoration of the instruments he lost in the fire
  • Vulpecula: The fox
  • Canes Venatici: The hunting dogs
  • Lacerta: The lizard
  • Leo Minor: The little lion
  • Lynx: The lynx
Beer Brand Label
Impressive achievements to be sure...so what could possibly be Hevelius' other notable occupation of interest to us? Beer! Not so strange considering Hevelius took over the family brewery from his German parents and was head of the local brewing guild. Brewing beer was a tradition in his family, and even today you can buy beer named after Gdańsk's local son.

Today if you visit Gdańsk you can view the legacy of Johannes Hevelius: the former location of his home and brewery, Ul. Piwna (Piwna or "Beer" Street), and his final resting place in St. Catherine's Church. And of course, tip a tall cool one in honor of Jan himself! 


Memorial to Hevelius in St. Catherine's Church



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