At Age 57 Banneker Tackles Astronomy

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By 1788, Banneker's scientific interest bent toward astronomy in such a way that George could not keep the man satisfied. The subject fascinated Banneker more than anything else in his life. It was not long before George arrived at Banneker's farm with books and instruments, including a pedestal telescope, a sturdy table on which to rest it, and a set of drafting instruments for making astronomical observations. One of the first books Banneker read was James Ferguson's An Easy Introduction to Astronomy for Young Gentlemen and Ladies (1768). He also studied a more detailed and complex book called Mayer's Lunar Tables (1753) by the German cartographer and astronomer Johann Tobias Mayer, another self-taught mathematician. Also among his new and modest library was Charles Leadbetter's A Complete System of Astronomy (1742), the most comprehensive and advanced book of his collection.

Due to George's busy schedule, he did not have time to instruct Banneker. Once again, Banneker was forced to educate himself. He had no problem with that. Beginning in 1789, after carefully reading each of his books, Banneker turned to his telescope and put to work what he had learned. Each night, for hours on end, he would make observations. Astronomy had taken hold of him in a way that overshadowed his other responsibilities to the extent that the farm began to suffer. He felt guilty for his neglect of the land, yet he could not tear himself away from his new fascination. His life had found new meaning. Aside from his friend George Ellicott, Banneker was involved in something no one else grasped, and this gave him enormous pleasure.

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