astronomer, engineer, and politician who built the largest telescope
then in use. He found 15 spiral nebulae and named the Crab nebula. He
was among the first to take photographs of the Moon.
Parsons was born in York and studied at Oxford. As the eldest son of
a titled landowner, he was elected to Parliament while still an undergraduate
to represent King's County, a seat he then held for 13 years. In 1831
he became Lord Lieutenant of County Offaly, and in 1841, on the death
of his father, he entered the House of Lords. During and after the potato
famine of 1846, Parsons worked to alleviate the living conditions of
Determined to construct a large telescope, Parsons learned to cast and
grind mirrors. Fourteen years after his experiments began, he was able
to make a 92-cm/36-in solid mirror, and in 1842 he cast the 'Leviathan
of Parsonstown', a disc 1.8 m/72 in in diameter which weighed nearly
4 tonnes and was incorporated into a telescope with a focal length of
16.2 m/54 ft. It took three years to put together. He also invented
a clockwork drive for the large equatorial mounting of an observatory.