Pittsburghia | August 2021

“We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night,” reads the plaque on John and Phoebe Brashear’s final resting place in the crypt of the Allegheny Observatory. Brashear was an astronomer and builder of scientific instruments born November 24, 1840, in Brownsville, PA, a town 35 miles south of Pittsburgh.

As a child, he observed the moon and Saturn through a traveling astronomer’s telescope, igniting a lifelong curiosity of the heavens above. In his early twenties, Brashear lacked the financial means to purchase a telescope so he built his own, going on to become one of the most respected astronomers and inventors of his time, manufacturing world-renowned astronomical and other scientific instruments. As a result of his contributions, Brashear became director of the Allegheny Observatory in 1898. 

Shortly after in 1902, Dr. Max Wolf discovered an asteroid orbiting the sun roughly 150 million miles away using one of Brashear’s devices. In honor of the Pittsburgher, Wolf offered to name it after the inventor, but Brashear declined out of characteristic modesty. Thus, the asteroid was named 484 Pittsburghia after Brashear’s hometown.

If Brashear’s legacy is any indication, Pittsburgh’s reputation knows no bounds from here on Earth to the furthest reaches of our galaxy.

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