Étienne Léopold Trouvelot

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Trouvelot around 1870

Étienne Léopold Trouvelot (born December 26, 1827 in Guyencourt, Département Aisne , † April 22, 1895 in Meudon ) was a French astronomer , scientific illustrator and entomologist .


Gypsy moth
Spread around Medford, Massachusetts in 1888

Little is known about the first phase of his life in France. However, he seems to have been politically active, because after the coup d'état by Louis Napoleon in 1852, he emigrated to the USA in 1857, where he was involved in silk farming , among other things . His experiments with the European species of the gypsy moth ( Lymantria dispar ), which was resistant to diseases of the American species Antheraea polyphemus from the genus of the peacock moth , had fatal consequences. In 1869 he had imported eggs of this species for experimental purposes. Unfortunately, some of the specimens escaped and began to reproduce in the Medford , Massachusetts area , where Trouvelot and his family lived at the time. Trouvelot was aware of the danger, but ignored his warnings until the infestation became manifest in the neighborhood in 1886. By the mid-1890s, the gypsy moth had spread across Massachusetts and, since then, significant parts of North America. It now causes hundreds of millions of dollars in annual damage.

Trouvelot became known in the following years as an astronomer and especially as a talented observer and creator of high quality astronomical illustrations. The Trouvelot Astronomical Drawings , a series of color reproductions of his drawings, attracted widespread attention, if not widespread, as the 15 large-format plates (965 × 760 mm) with an accompanying volume, produced using chromolithographic technology, cost 125 dollars at the time.

As a member of the Boston Society of Natural History , he had initially made contributions to entomology, but from the beginning of the 1870s his interest turned to astronomy. Through his acquaintance with Joseph Winlock (1826–1875), then director of the Harvard College Observatory , he became its employee in 1872 and from 1875 received access to the 26 " refractor of the United States Naval Observatory , at that time the largest lens telescope in the world.

In 1882 he returned to France and was employed by Jules Janssen at the newly founded observatory in Meudon in 1875 . In 1883 he took part in the expedition to observe a total solar eclipse on the Caroline Islands . On this occasion, together with Johann Palisa, he also tried to locate a hypothetical planet near the Sun that could have explained the perihelion of Mercury . The search was unsuccessful because the orbital anomaly of Mercury is due to relativistic effects.


Trouvelot wrote dozens of articles on astronomy and zoology and made thousands of astronomical drawings and observational sketches over the course of his life, which was one of the best at a time when astronomical photography was still in its infancy, especially in the field of mapping planets was to have. He used a grid in his observations, which enabled him to achieve an accuracy of 6 arc seconds for the star positions shown. One focus of his interests was the sun. Over a thousand of his drawings of sunspots are in the holdings of the Harvard College Observatory. In 1877 Trouvelot became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences .

In addition to these services to astronomy, he enjoys (especially in the USA) the dubious reputation of a man who is directly responsible for introducing a pest that annually destroys large areas of forest in the USA. It is the only case that responsibility for introducing an invasive species can be directly attributed to a single individual, which, however, would probably not be possible had Trouvelot remained silent about its accidental release.

The moon crater Trouvelot and the Mars crater Trouvelot are named after him.

Works (selection)


  • DeWayne A. Backhus, Elizabeth K. Fitch: Nineteenth Century EL Trouvelot Astronomical Prints at Emporia State University. In: Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science. Vol. 109, No. 1/2 (Spring 2006), pp. 11-20
  • JK Herman, BG Corbin: From moths to Mars. In: Sky & Telescope 72 (1986), pp. 566-568
  • E. Dorrit Hoffleit: Trouvelot, Étienne Léopold. In: Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Vol. 13. Charles Scribner's Sons, Detroit 2008, pp. 472-473
  • BG Corbin: Etienne Leopold Trouvelot (1827--1895), the Artist and Astronomer. Library and Information Services in Astronomy V: Common Challenges, Uncommon Solutions. ASP Conference Series, Vol. 377, p. 352 digitized
  • Obituary in Nature , Vol. 52 (1895), No. 1331, p. 11
  • Obituary in Observatory , Vol. 18 (1895), pp. 245-246, digitized
  • Obituary in the Astrophysical Journal , Vol. 2 (1895), p. 166, digitized

Web links

Commons : Étienne Léopold Trouvelot  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Economic Impacts of Non-Native Forest Insects in the Continental United States
  2. ^ A modern second hand bookshop was priced at $ 45,000. See Backhus, Fitch: Nineteenth Century EL Trouvelot Astronomical Prints at Emporia State University. In: Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science. Vol. 109, No. 1/2 (2006), p. 12 and 14th
  3. ^ Herman, Corbin: From moths to Mars. In: Sky & Telescope 72 (1986), p. 567
  4. ^ Fred Bendheim: The art and science of Etienne Trouvelot. In: The Lancet, Vol. 357, H. 9272 (June 16, 2001), pp. 1983f, doi : 10.1016 / S0140-6736 (00) 05072-8
  5. ^ Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature