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Zinner, Ernst (1886-1970) | Special Collections & University Archives

Name: Zinner, Ernst (1886-1970)

Historical Note:

Ernst Zinner was born in1886 in Goldberg, Silesia, a region of Central Europe primarily located in modern-day Poland, but which also overlaps current borders of the Czech Republic and Germany.  He completed his PhD in 1907 at the University of Jena, also studying at the University of Lund, the University of Paris, and the K√∂nigstuhl Observatory in Heidelberg.  In 1910, Zinner became Assistant to Ernst Hartwig, then director of the Remeis Astronomical Observatory at Bamberg, Germany.

In 1913 Zinner rediscovered the Comet Giacobini-Zinner, which had been previously discoverd by Michel Giacobini in 1900.  During the First World War, Zinner worked in the weather service.  He returned to the field of astronomy at the end of the war, becoming a lecturer in 1919, and professor of astronomy at the University of Munich in 1924.

In 1926, Zinner succeeded Hartwig and became director of the Remeis Astronomical Observatory at Bamberg.  He held the office until his retirement in 1953.  Over his career, Zinner distinguished himself as an historian of Renaissance astronomy, and authored several books on the subject.  The best known of these is Geschichte und Bibliographie der Astronomischen Literatur in Deutschland zur Zeit der Renaissance, a standard reference work still cited as the authority in the field.  Among many honors bestowed upon him during his life, the Zinner crater on the Moon is named after him.

Zinner was a frequent traveler, and had a great personal interest in scientific instruments and sundials.  Traveling throughout Europe both before and after World War II, he visited numerous instrument collections, taking painstaking notes, even on public sundials, thereby accumulating an enormous reference collection on scientific instruments specifically, and astronomy and physics more generally.

Fearing the Soviet Union would buy or conceal his personal collection of books and manuscripts, upon his retirement, he sold it to the newly formed Friends of the Malcolm A. Love Library at San Diego State College in 1967.  He willed his personal papers to Frankfurt University, from which he had received an honorary doctorate in 1961 in acknowledgement of his great merits to the history of astronomy.  Zinner died in 1970.

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