Jacobus Cornelius Kapteyn

Jacobus Cornelius Kapteyn


Date of Birth
January 19, 1851
Date of Death
June 18, 1922

After studies in physics at the University of Utrecht Kapteyn spent three years at the Leiden Observatory. He founded and built the study of astronomy at the University of Groningen from 1878 to 1921. Lacking a telescope, he volunteered to measure photographic plates taken by David Gill at the Cape of Good Hope. From this came a catalog of 454,875 southern stars and values for the density of stars in space as a function of distance, brightness, and spectral class. Kapteyn then organized his Plan of Selected Areas by which astronomers worldwide would determine positions and other data for vast numbers of stars. He compiled tables of distances of stars according to their magnitudes and proper motions and of counts of stars by magnitude and position, and he used these for vast statistical studies. Kapteyn’s model of the sidereal system was valid at high galactic latitudes but failed in the galactic plane because of the lack of knowledge of interstellar absorption. His discovery of “star streaming” led to the finding of galactic rotation. Kapteyn founded the extremely productive “Dutch school” of astronomers.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Curtis, Heber D., PASP 25,15 (1913).

Other awards

Government of Germany, Order Pour le Merite for Arts and Sciences, 1915.
National Academy of Sciences, James Craig Watson Medal, 1913.
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1902.

Biographical materials

Blaauw, AdriaanDictionary of Scientific Biography 7, 235-40.
Blaauw, AdriaanBiographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 611-13.
Hertzsprung-Kapteyn, H., The Life and Works of J.C. Kapteyn (Kluwer, Norwell, MA, 1994) [translation by E.R. Paul of book written by Kapteyn’s daughter in 1928, previously published in Space Science Reviews 64, 1/2, iv-xix, 1-92 (1993)].
Méndez, Javier, Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes
Tenn, Joseph S., “Jacobus Cornelius Kapteyn: The Tenth Bruce Medalist,” Mercury  20, 5, 145 (1991).
University of Groningen
van der Kruit, P.C. & K. van Berkel, eds., The Legacy of J.C. Kapteyn: Studies on Kapteyn and the Development of Modern Astronomy, (Kluwer, Dordrecht & Boston, 2000) [Proceedings of a symposium held in 1999. Table of Contents] [excerpts in Google Books].
van der Kruit, Pieter C., Jacobus Cornelius Kapteyn: Born Investigator of the Heavens (Springer, 2014).
v[an] H[elden], A[lbert], in K.v. Berkel, A.v. Helden, & L. Palm, eds., A History of Science in The Netherlands (Brill, Leiden, 1999), pp. 495-97.
World News site


Crommelin, A.C.D., Nature 110, 48-49 (1922).
Eddington, A.S.Proceedings of the Royal Society of London A 102, no. 719, xxix-xxxv (1923).
Eddington, A.S.Observatory 45, 261-65 (1922).
Jeans, J., MNRAS 83, 250-255 (1923).
Seares, F.H.PASP 34, 233-253 (1922).
van Maanen, A., Ap.J. 56, 145-53 (1922).
van Rhijn, P.J., Popular Astronomy 30, 628-32 (1922).
More obituaries


AIP Center for History of Physics
Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington
University of Groningen
Wikimedia [painting].

Named after him

Lunar crater Kapteyn
Minor Planet #818 Kapteynia
Kapteyn’s Star – the second fastest star known.
Kapteyn Institute, University of Groningen
The Jacobus Kapteyn Telescope
Kapteyn Cottage at Mount Wilson
Kapteyn Series


Papers, etc.

Kapteyn’s papers were lost in World War II. In 1999 his surviving correspondence from archives around the world were collected by Petra van der Heijden and published in van der Kruit, P.C. & K. van Berkel, eds., The Legacy of J.C. Kapteyn: Studies on Kapteyn and the Development of Modern Astronomy (Kluwer, Dordrecht & Boston, 2000).

Other References: Historical

Berendzen, Richard, Richard Hart, & Daniel Seeley, Man Discovers the Galaxies (Science History Publications, 1976)

de Sitter, W.Kosmos: a Course of Six Lectures on the Development of our Insight into the Structure of the Universe, Delivered for the Lowell Institute in Boston, in November 1931 (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1932).

de Sitter, Wolter Reinold, “Kapteyn and de Sitter; a Rare and Special Teacher-Student and Coach-Player Relationship,” in Invited Reviews Presented at the Symposium “The Legacy of J. C. Kapteyn,” Groningen, The Netherlands, June 9-11, 1999, ed. by P. C. van der Kruit and K. van Berkel (Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 2000), p. 79 - 108.

Kapteyn, J.C., “Sir David Gill,” Ap.J. 40, 161-72 (1914) [obituary].

Kevles, Daniel J., “Into Hostile Political Camps: The Reorganization of International Science in World War I,” Isis 62, 47-60 (1971).

Lynds, Beverly T., “The Plan of Selected Areas,” A.S.P. Leaflet 989-96 (1963) [Leaflet #412].

Oort, Jan H., “The Development of our Insight into the Structure of the Galaxy between 1920 and 1940,” Education in and History of Modern AstronomyAnnals NY Acad. Sci.198, 255-266 (1972).

Paul, E. Robert, “The Death of a Research Programme: Kapteyn and the Dutch Astronomical Community,” JHA 12, 77-94 (1981).

Paul, E. Robert, “Kapteyn and Statistical Astronomy,” in Hugo van Woerden, Ronald J. Allen, & W. Butler Burton, eds., The Milky Way Galaxy, IAU Symposium 106 (E. Reidel, Dordrecht, 1985), pp. 25-42 .

Paul, E. Robert, “J.C. Kapteyn and the Early Twentieth-Century Universe,” JHA 17, 155-82 (1986).

Paul, E.R., The Milky Way Galaxy and Statistical Cosmology, 1890-1924 (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK & NY, 1993)

Plaskett, J.S., “Modern Conceptions of the Stellar System,” Popular Astronomy 47, 239-256 (1939).

Rohlfs, Kristen, “Galactic Astronomy in Continental Europe in the Nineteenth Century in the Time Succeeding Herschel,” Vistas in Astronomy 32, 215-23 (1988).

Smith, Robert W., The Expanding Universe: Astronomy’s ‘Great Debate’ 1900-1931 (Cambridge U.P., 1980).

Smith, Robert W., “Beyond the Big Galaxy: The Structure Of The Stellar System 1900–1952,” JHA 37, 307-42 (2006).

van der Kruit, P.C., “Lessons from the Milky Way: the Kapteyn Universe,” in K.C. Freeman, B.G. Elmegree, D.L. Block, & M. Woolway, eds., Lessons from the Local Group: A Conference in Honour of David Block and Bruce Elmegreen (Springer, NY, to be published) [free reprint at http://arXiv:1407.2632v1].

van Rhijn, P.J., “J.C. Kapteyn Centennial,” Sky & Telescope 10, 55 (1951).

Search ADS for works about Kapteyn

Other References: Scientific

Campbell, W.W.Stellar Motions (Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, CT, 1913).

Kapteyn, J.C., “Vorläufige Mittheilung betr. Bestimmung von Fixstern-Parallaxen, ” Astr. Nach. 123, 105/106 (1890).

van de Sande Bakhuyzen, E.F. & J.C. Kapteyn, “Ephemeris of comet b, 1877 (Winnecke’s),” Observatory1, 64 (1877).

Kapteyn, J.C., Bestimmung von Parallaxen durch Registrir-Beobachtungen am Meridian Kreise. Reviewed and discussed by Lewis Boss, PASP 3, 346-53 (1891).

Kapteyn, J.C., Corrections de Refraction et d’Aberration pour les Coordonnees Rectangulaires Measurees sur les Cliches Photographiques (Gauthier-Villars et fils, Paris, 1896)

Gill, D. & J.C. Kapteyn, “Cape Photographic Durchmusterung Part 1,” Annals of the Cape Observatory, vol. 3 (H.M. Stationery Office, London, 1896). Contains a detailed historical discussion of the development of a pioneer project to photographically map the southern sky for accurate stellar positions and magnitudes.

Kapteyn, J.C., “The Determination of the Apex of the Solar Motion,” KNAW, Proceedings 2353-74 (1900).

Kapteyn, J.C., “On the Luminosity of the Fixed Stars,” KNAW, Proceedings 3 II, 658-89 (1901).

Kapteyn, J.C., “Remarks on the Determination of the Number and Mean Parallax of Stars of Different Magnitude and the Absorption of Light in Space,” Astronomical Journal 24, 115-22 (1904).

Kapteyn, J.C., “Star Streaming,” Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A 257–65 (1905).

Kapteyn, J.C., “On the Parallax of the Nebulae,” KNAW, Proceedings 8 II, 691-99 (1906).

Kapteyn, J.C. & W. Kapteyn, “Some Useful Trigonometrical Formulae and a Table of Goniometrical Functions for the Four Quadrants,” Publications of the Kapteyn Astronomical Laboratory Groningen 16, 13-19 (1906).

Kapteyn, J.C., Plan of Selected Areas (Groningen, 1906).

Kapteyn, J.C., “On the Number of Stars of Determined Magnitude and Determined Galactic Latitude,” Publications of the Kapteyn Astronomical Laboratory Groningen 18, 1-54 (1908).

Kapteyn, J.C. & W. de Sitter, “The Proper Motions of 3300 Stars of Different Galactic Magnitudes, Derived from Photographic Plates Prepared by Prof. Anders Donner,” Publications of the Kapteyn Astronomical Laboratory Groningen 19, 1-T112 (1908).

Kapteyn, J.C., “On the Mean Star-Density at Different Distances from the Solar System,” KNAW, Proceedings 10 II, 626-35 (1908).

Donner, A., J.C. Kapteyn, & W. de Sitter, “The Parallaxes of 3650 Stars of Different Galactic Latitudes, Derived from Photographic Plates,” Publications of the Kapteyn Astronomical Laboratory Groningen 20, 1-T136 (1908).

Kapteyn, J.C., “Recent Researches in the Structure of the Universe,” Observatory 31, 346-48 (1908).

Kapteyn, J.C., “On the Absorption of Light in Space,” Ap. J. 29, 46-54 (1909) and 30, 284-317 (1909). (correction)

Kapteyn, J.C. & W. de Sitter, “The Parallax of the Hyades, derived from Photographic Plates Prepared by Prof. Anders Donner at Helsingfors, and Prof. F. K�stner at Bonn,” Publications of the Kapteyn Astronomical Laboratory Groningen 23, 1-56 (1909).

Kapteyn, J.C., “On Certain Statistical Data Which May Be Valuable in the Classification of the Stars in the Order of Their Evolution,” Ap.J. 31, 258-69 (1910).

Kapteyn, J.C. & Edwin B. Frost, “On the Velocity of the Sun’s Motion through Space as Derived from the Radial Velocity of Orion Stars,” Ap.J. 32, 83-90 (1910) (correction).

Kapteyn, J.C., “The Milky Way and the Star-streams,” KNAW, Proceedings 14 524-30 (1911).

First and Second Report on the Progress of the Plan of Selected Areas (Hoitsema Brothers, Groningen, 1911). [34 pages]

Kapteyn, J.C., “Star Systems and the Milky Way,” KNAW, Proceedings 14 909-11 (1912).

Kapteyn, J.C., “The Structure of the Universe,” Science 38, 717-24 (1913).

Kapteyn, J.C., “On the Change of Spectrum and Color Index with Distance and Absolute Brightness. Present State of the Question,“ Ap.J. 40, 187-204 (1914).

Kapteyn, J.C., “On the Structure of the Universe,” JRASC 8, 145-59 (1914) [reprinted from Scientia14, 345–57 (1913)].

Kapteyn, J.C. & M.J. van Uven, Skew Frequency Curves in Biology and Statistics. 2nd paper (Hoitsema, Groningen, 1916).

Kapteyn, J.C. with H.A. Weersma, “On the Derivation of the Constants for the Two Star Streams,” MNRAS 72, 743-56 (1917).

Pickering, Edward C. & J.C. Kapteyn, “Durchmusterung of Selected Areas: Between δ = 0 and δ = +90°: Systematic Plan, Annals of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College 101, 1-368 (1918).

Kapteyn, J.C. & P.J. Van Rhijn, “On the Distribution of the Stars in Space Especially in the High Galactic Latitudes,” Ap.J. 52, 23-38 (1920).

Kapteyn, J.C. & P.J. Van Rhijn, “On the Upper Limit of Distance to which the Arrangement of Stars in Space can at Present Be Determined with Some Confidence,” Ap.J. 55, 242-71 (1922).

Kapteyn, J.C. , “First Attempt at a Theory of the Arrangement and Motion of the Sidereal System,” Ap.J. 55, 302-28 (1922).

Kapteyn, J.C., “The Proper Motions of δ Cephei Stars and the Distances of the Globular Clusters,” Bull. Astr. Inst. Neth. 1, 37-42 (1922).

Kapteyn, J.C., “On the Proper Motions of the Faint Stars and the Systematic Errors of the Boss Fundamental System,” Bull. Astr. Inst. Neth. 1, 69-78 (1922).

Pickering, Edward C., J.C. Kapteyn, & P.J. van Rhijn,, “Durchmusterung of Selected Areas: Between δ = –15° and –30°: Systematic Plan, Annals of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College 102, 1-276 (1923).

Pickering, Edward C., J.C. Kapteyn, & P.J. van Rhijn,, “Durchmusterung of Selected Areas: Between δ = –45° and –90°: Systematic Plan, Annals of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College 103, 1-344 (1924).

Seares, F.H., J.C. Kapteyn, P.J. van Rhijn, Mary C. Joyner, & Myrtle L. Richmond, Mount Wilson Catalogue of Photographic Magnitudes in Selected Areas 1-139 (Carnegie institution of Washington, Washington, 1930).

Rhijn, Pieter Johannes van & Jacobus Cornelius Kapteyn, Durchmusterung of Selected Areas of the Special Plan (Kapteyn Astronomical Laboratory, Groningen, Netherlands, 1952).