Jean Dragesco was born on the 27th of April 1920 at Cluj. When he was only 15 years old, he was already observing the Moon through a self-made 2″ telescope. Around the same age, he read an outstanding number of astronomy books written in French and this informational pathway made him acquire new scientific knowledge, the building blocks of his future and dedicated life for science.
At 17 years old, he built another telescope, a 4″ Newtonian, which had a mirror made in Stuttgart, Germany He built another mirror, still spherical, but 6″, and finished a good Altazimuthal Newtonian telescope. At 19 years old, he became "officially" a contributor to "Mars" section of Société Astronomique de France. In the same year, Jean Dragesco founded the first organization for the young astronomers in Romania called the Astronomical Society for Young Astronomers and he became the editor of the monthly publication Urania. The next year, he founded the Microscopy Association and started to publish the Micron journal.
Jean Dragesco left Romania for France when he was 21 years old. His father, Ion Dragu, was a philosopher, writer and diplomat; he worked for the Romanian Embassy in Paris as the Head of Press Office, during that time, Eugène Ionesco was Press and Cultural Secretary within the institution. Once in France, an excellent 3″ telescope came to being out of his own hands. After he became a member of Société Astronomique de France and an active observer of "Mars" section there, he got the permission to do observations withe the 6″ and 7.5″ (152 and 190 mm) telescopes at Paris Observatory. It is also the moment when he started to collaborate with several very knowledgeable and dedicated astronomers who latter on became professionals in the field.
At 22 years old, he discovered a gap between the rings B and C of planet Saturn. However, even if the same discovery was made a few weeks later by the distinguished French astronomer Bernard Lyot, the same who invented the coronagraph, the new discovery was attributed to him and not to Dragesco and it is today known as the ''Lyot division".
At 26 years old, he received the First Prize of Société Astronomique de France. The same year, he decided to interrupt his astronomical researches and dedicate entirely to protozoology studies as he became a professional researcher at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France. În 1956, he earned his Phd degree for a thesis on ciliated protozoans. He taught for 36 years, optics, photography and cinematography in the field of biological research.
The year 1956 is the start of his long scientific adventure in Africa. For an entire year, he was the photographer and camera operator of a French scientific expedition on this continent which produced the first long duration documentary film about termites. The burning sun of Africa and the unforgettable crystal nights he had during the first expedition, determined him to rerun there again as an eager scientist. This time he was alone in the vast and wild natural environment of Africa, and for nine months he studied protozoans and filmed different mammals and birds.
Having built an impressive personal background in several scientific areas, at 39 years old he returned to his first love, astronomy. He ordered a 10″ telescope on an excellent equatorial mount and this way, astronomy was reinserted in his scientific preoccupations. In 1960, he returned to Africa in order to make a popular documentary about the life of birds, which was filmed in Mauritania.
On the 15th of February 1961, he observed a total eclipse of the Sun in southern France, at Menton.
In 1962 he bought a new Newtonian telescope (7″), on a portable equatorial mount and with this instrument he went to the equatorial forest of Gabon (Central Africa). There he took the best photos with Mars he ever produced. He then started a planetary patrol of our Solar System on a regular basis, in cooperation with several international scientific groups such as ALPO (USA), the ”Mars” and “Jupiter” divisions of B.A.A., the Swiss and French planetary commissions and others (1963-1967). He was secretary of the French Planetary Commission when his laborious scientific activities were rewarded with another distinction from Société Astronomique de France.
In 1967, Jean Dragesco won the Académie des Sciences Award, one on the many prizes he received during his life for his outstanding achievements in the field of biological photography and cinematography. He was a co-founder and the Vice-president of the Permanent International Research Film Commission, which belonged to the International Scientific Film Association. He also published a specialized magazine, "The Research Film", which he edited in Göttingen, Germany.
In between 1967-1972, Jean Dragesco was professor at the Yaoundé French University, (Cameroon, West Africa) teaching Animal Biology. He continued to keep the astronomical research as a main focus point and to use his Newtonian telescopes (10″ and 7″) and a special 4″ refractory-reflector solar telescope. In 1970, he published in Sky and Telescope, L’Astronomie and Strolling Astronomer.
On the14th of Mai 1971, while he was in Cameroon doing astrophotography, he published a study about a very rare occultation of the β2 Scorpioni star by the Io satellite of Jupiter.
In 1973-1976, he is a Zoology and Animal Biology professor at Clermont Ferrand University in France. In 1973 he travels to Turkana in Kenya to film a new total eclipse of the Sun on a 35 mm film.
He was correspondent and then collaborator of Astronomy Magazine. In 1975, he got the most important ”Prix des Dames”, offered by Société Astronomique de France. The next year, he returned to Africa as a professor of Animal Biology in Cotonou, the capital city of Benin (West Africa). This a period when he uses only a Celestron telescope of only 8″ and published in Astronomy Magazine, Sky and Telescope, Strolling Astronomer, L’Astronomie, J.B.B.A., Ciel et Espace.
In 1984, he moved in Butare (Rwanda, Central Africa), as a Zoology professor at the National University. Two years later he traveled north of Botswana (South Africa) in order to take photographs of Halley comet.
He bought a Celestron Schmidt 8" camera and started technical tests about hypersensitivity by using tests done on an artificial sky and a modern densitometer. His findings will be published in several journals in France, USA and Great Britain. Jean Dragesco continued to invest in new astronomical instruments, such as a Starfire apochromatic refractory telescope, installed on a Takahashi P 160 having an equatorial mount, a Lichtenknecker coronagraph and a 0,6 A Hα Daystar filter, excellent but also very expensive. The autumn of 1988 finds him again observing the sky but this time in Texas and Arizona.
1995 is the year which marks a very important event is his life: Cambridge University Press published his album of astronomical photographs “High Resolution Astrophotography”, considered one of the best ever made in the world.
Jean Dragesco published over 80 books and articles on astronomy and over 160 on protozoology, birds and wild mammals, photography, cinematography, ballistics and in some other fields. From September 1989, he lives in southern France, near Montpellier. As long as his age allowed, he continued to observe the Sun with a C14 telescope and a Hα filter. He also owned other instruments which he used or have them as alternatives and backup solutions at Aniane Observatory (35 km. away from his home).
In 2000, the International Astronomical Union named the 12498 asteroid JEAN DRAGESCO (Ion Drăgescu).
On the entrance corridor inside the Main Building of Bucharest Observatory, belonging to the Astronomical Institute of the Romanian Academy, generations of astronomers and amazed visitors continued to admire a unique exhibition of astrophotos taken by Jean Dragesco all around the world, which were also presented and recorded for posterity in his famous album.
Happy Birthday, Professor!