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Born at Cortemaggiore, Province of Piacenza, 7 October, 1824; died at Rome, 10 December, 1889. He studied mathematics and natural philosophy, first at Parma and then at the University of Bologna, where he obtained his degree ad honorem in 1845. In 1849 he was appointed as substitute to the chair of rational mechanics and hydraulics in the same university, two years later professor of optics and astronomy, and finally in 1855 he became director of the Bologna observatory of Milan. From 1855 to 1864 he discovered, at Bologna, three comets (1862 IV, 1863 II, and 1863 V) and made himself known by other important works of meteorology and astronomy. In 1865 the Italian Government, already established in Bologna for five years, imposed upon the university professors the oath of subjection to the dynasty of Victor Emmanuel II. Three professors refused to take it: Chelini, Filopanti, and Respighi. In consequence of this refusal, the last-named had to leave the chair and the direction of the observatory. He then went to Rome, which still continued under the government of the pope, and obtained the position of astronomer at the observatory of the Capitol, directed by Calandrelli. In 1866, a year after the death of the latter, Respighi succeeded him both in the directorship of the observatory at the Capitol and in the chair of astronomy at the Sapienza. In 1866 he made important observations on the lunar crater Linnæus. In 1867 and 1868 he began his celebrated studies of the scintillation of stars. In October, 1869, he made the first spectroscopic observations on the border of the sun.
Rome having been occupied by the Italian Government (1870), Respighi (October, 1871) found himself again confronted with the question of the oath. He had been invited by the British Government to take part in an expedition to the Indies for the solar eclipse in December, 1871. This invitation gave so much distinction to the astronomer that the Italian Minister of Public Instruction offered him a sum to defray the expenses of the journey. Respighi accepted on condition that he should not be subject to take the oath. It does honour to the minister that he did not insist upon a condition with which a loyal subject of the pope would not have complied even if his refusal cost him his position. Six years later, in 1877, Respighi was appointed Knight of the Civil Order of Savoy; to receive this honour it became again necessary to take the oath. In a letter to the Minister of Instruction, Respighi refused and returned the cross which had been already sent to him. Besides the aforementioned studies, we owe to him other very important researches, on spectra of stars and on the solar corona, as also the first systematic observations on solar protuberances. Moreover, he discovered and practised new methods to determine the diameter of the sun and the zenith distances of stars. Finally, astronomy owes Respighi a masterly catalogue of the absolute declinations of 2534 boreal stars. After Schiaparelli, Respighi was the most prominent Italian astronomer of the nineteenth century.