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Explorations in Science and Technology

He Brought Saturn's Rings Into Focus


Saturn’s rings became clearer to human eyes, thanks to John Brashear, self-taught astronomer and acting chancellor of the Western University of Pennsylvania (now Pitt).

Beginning his working life as a modest millwright on Pittsburgh’s South Side, Brashear developed a fondness for stargazing that led to the building of his first telescope, in 1870. “Uncle John” (as Pittsburghers fondly called him) went on to help produce a plethora of innovative and scientific instruments still used today. He opened his own company, and nearly every major observatory in the world utilized his products.

Later, Brashear served as director of the Allegheny Observatory on today’s North Side of Pittsburgh, where astronomers used his telescope to find Saturn’s rings.