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William Robert Brooks (June 11, 1844 – May 3, 1921) was a British-born American astronomer, mainly noted as being one of the most prolific discoverers of new comets of all time, second only to Jean-Louis Pons. He was born in Maidstone, England, the son of a Baptist minister who emigrated to Marion, New York. Son of Rev. William and Caroline (Wickings) Brooks.[1]

Early lifeEdit

Brooks developed his interest in astronomy during a boyhood voyage to Australia, when he observed a navigator making measurements with a sextant. As a young man he worked in the Shepherd Iron Works in Buffalo, New York, gaining considerable mechanical and draughtsmanship skills: he went on to become a portrait photographer in Phelps before turning his attention to astronomy full-time.[2] Brooks had a good knowledge of lens construction, and was able to design and make his own telescopes, taking a year to grind and polish the optics for his nine-inch reflector.

Comet discoveriesEdit

After marrying Mary E. Smith in 1870,[3] Brooks moved to Phelps where he discovered his first comet in 1881, using a telescope of his own construction. In 1886, he discovered 3 new comets.[4]

Brooks' success at comet discovery was noticed by businessman William Smith, who, wishing to attract Brooks to Geneva, New York, built a new observatory and a home for Brooks' family. Brooks went on to become Director of the Smith Observatory at Hobart College, Geneva, New York, where he lectured and undertook his astronomical research. His observations at the Smith Observatory produced 16 new comets.

He specialized in the discovery of comets, including periodic comets 12P/Pons-Brooks and 16P/Brooks. He also discovered the bright naked-eye comet C/1911 O1 (Brooks), and was a pioneer of astrophotography.


In his life, Brooks received medals from the Lick Observatory, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific,[5] the International Jury at the St. Louis Exhibition, the Astronomical Society of Mexico, and the Lalande Medal of the French Academy of Sciences in 1899. Brooks was also appointed a Professor and Honorary Doctor of Science by Hobart College.[6]


  1. ^ The International Who's Who Pub. Co., 1911. p. 182.
  2. ^ Proctor, M. 'DR. BROOKS, DISCOVERER OF 26 COMETS, NEARLY SCORES WORLD RECORD', New York Times, 24-09-1911
  3. ^ Hockey, Thomas (2009). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers. Springer Publishing. ISBN 978-0-387-31022-0. Retrieved August 22, 2012.
  4. ^ "Biographies of William Smith & William Brooks". Smith Observatory, Geneva, NY. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  5. ^ "Comet-Medal". Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. 16 (98): 232. 1904. Bibcode:1904PASP...16..232.. doi:10.1086/121602.
  6. ^ "Obituary Notices: Fellows:— Brooks, William R". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 82: 246. 1922. Bibcode:1922MNRAS..82R.246.. doi:10.1093/mnras/82.4.246a.

External linksEdit

  • Smith Website featuring the history and current status of the Smith Observatory in Geneva, NY