Culture and Cosmos is a peer-reviewed academic journal in the history of astrology and cultural astronomy published by the Sophia Centre Press in partnership with the Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture, Faculty of Humanitiies and the Performing Arts, at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David

We are currently seeking submissions for future volumes of Culture and Cosmos.

Volume 18

Dr Katterfelto and the Prehistory of Astronomical Ballooning

Clive Davenhall


Abstract: Regular telescopic astronomical observations made from balloons began after World War II, though scientific, particularly meteorological, ballooning dates from the mid-nineteenth century. However, astronomical ballooning has a curious prehistory at the dawn of lighter-than-air travel in the 1780s. The self-styled Dr Katterfelto (c.1743?-99) was a German-born travelling showman, lecturer and considerable self-publicist who in 1784-85 claimed to have made important astronomical discoveries from observations made from a balloon. It is unlikely that he made any such observations, or, indeed, any balloon flights. However, the episode throws some light on the world of the itinerant, eighteenth-century astronomical lecturer and the diffusion of contemporary astronomical and scientific knowledge.

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