Copenhagen Observatory Circulars

The Copenhagen Observatory circulars (COCs) served during 1914-1930 to issue information about astronomical phenomena requiring prompt dissemination -- mostly new orbital elements and ephemerides for comets and minor planets, but also (after COC 24) observations of comets, minor planets, and novae -- evidently for astronomers in the eastern hemisphere that had been affected by communication disruption during the first world war. Copenhagen Observatory Director Elis Strömgren started the postcard/circular concept in 1914 that continues to this day with the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. Strömgren had worked at the Central Bureau (and with the Astronomische Nachrichten) in Kiel for much of the first decade of the 20th century, so he had considerable experience in dealing with reports of astronomical discoveries and announcing them -- and after his move to Copenhagen, it was natural that the Central Bureau in Kiel agreed to have Strömgren help them by issuing telegrams during the war.

It appears that only 40 Copenhagen cards were issued between 1914 and the beginning of the IAU's CBAT in Uccle in 1920, most of which were typeset and printed, but some of which were handwritten (and possibly then mimeographed onto cards?). Curiously, there appears to have been no official name for the cards (such as "Circular") printed on the cards themselves. When the IAU established its new CBAT at Uccle in 1920 (apparently bypassing Strömgren because of his known friendship with the Germans at Kiel in that very political post-war era), and the first series of IAU Circulars were published there (in larger paper form, not as postcards), Strömgren essentially ceased publishing his postcard circulars. However, more than two-dozen additional COCs were published after the CBAT moved from Uccle to Copenhagen, curiously. The Kiel connection is seen at the top of the COCs issued after 1920, where the title "Kieler (Astronomische) Zentralstelle/Zweigstelle Kopenhagen" appears -- and where there is a distinguishing between the IAU Central Bureau and the original Central Bureau at Kiel that was transferred (temporarily) to Copenhagen where it was considered a "twin" bureau of the Kiel bureau. The world wars prevented Germany from being admitted to the IAU until 1951, explaining why the IAU did not accept Kiel (or, for the first three years, Copenhagen) as its Central Bureau, and why Kiel insisted on recognizing a non-IAU Central Bureau for years after the IAU started.

Some of the information on Uccle's IAUC 1 appeared on COC 39, and COC 40 contains some of the information that appears on IAUC 2. Then there was a break of several months before COC 41 was issued, containing largely the information that appears on IAUC 5 in July 1920. At that point, there was a long break, with no COCs issued from Copenhagen for over two years. In that time span, the IAU had decided after all to move the CBAT from Uccle to Copenhagen under Strömgren's able direction. Strömgren's assistant with the Central Bureau at that time was Julie M. Vinter Hansen, who would become CBAT Director upon Strömgren's death nearly three decades later. Curiously, five COCs were published during six months from late 1922 into early 1923 (after the new series of IAUCs began at Copenhagen), and all the last five COCs were edited by Vinter Hansen and issued in German -- all corresponding to IAUCs issued at the same time in French, edited by Strömgren! But these COCs appear to have been somewhat random: COC 42 contains most of what is on Copenhagen IAUC 1; COC 43 contains the same text as appears on IAUC 2; COC 44 contains most of what is on IAUC 5; the first two items on COC 45 appeared also on IAUC 9; and COC 46 contains the same text as appears on IAUC 13. The COCs continued to be published in German and edited by Vinter Hansen (with one exception -- COC 48, by Strömgren) through number 66 on 1926 Jan. 26; there was then a lapse of nearly four years (to COC 67 on 1929 Dec. 24), with the final four COCs (still in German) signed by Strömgren -- COC 70 being the final such circular on 1930 June 7.


The COCs are being made available here as scanned jpeg images, as time permits. We thank Emma Palmqvist (Librarian for Astronomy and Geophysics, Neils Bohr Institute, Copenhagen) for sending photocopies of these cards. The cards were all assembled into a single bound volume at the Copenhagen Observatory Library with no title page, but with the words "KBHVNS. OBS. CIRKULAERER 1914-1930" on the spine (the Library's set of IAUCs were also bound into books, the results of which can be seen in the scans of many of those cards on our scanned-IAUCs webpage).