In 1765, following a serious illness of his father, the famous physician Heinrich Reimarus (1729-1814) introduced Bode to Johann Georg Büsch (1728-1800), a professor of mathamatics at the Hamburg Academic "Gymnasium," who was impressed by Bode's amateur calculations. Büsch allowed Bode to use his library and instruments for scientific self-education. In 1766, when he was 19 years old, Bode's first publication came out, treating the Solar Eclipse of August 5, 1766 (Bode 1766). Among his early observational highlights were the observation of the transit of Venus on June 3, 1769, the independent co-discovery of the comet of 1769 (C/1769 P1 Messier), and the observation of the comet of 1770 (P/Lexell).
Inspired by Büsch, in 1768, Bode published his popular book, "Anleitung zur Kenntnis des gestirnten Himmels" [Instruction for the Knowledge of the Starry Heavens], which was printed in a number of editions (Bode 1768). In the second edition of this book (Bode 1772), he included a new concluding chapter; in a footnote to this chapter, he stressed an empirical law on planetary distances, originally found by J.D. Titius (1729-96), now called "Bode's Law" or "Titius-Bode Law." It is now quite certain that Bode had found this "Law" in the work of Johann Daniel Titius (1729-1796), who had published it in additions to his translation of Charles Bonnet's "Contemplation de la nature" (Titius 1766) - however it is somewhat unclear why Bode didn't fully acknowledge Titius' priority on this empirical rule. Immediately after publication in January 1772, he sent one of the copies to Johann Heinrich Lambert (1728-1777), who was impressed enough to immediately enter a discussion in writing, the final result of which was that Bode was offered a position in the Berlin Academy of Sciences.
In August 1772, Bode went to Berlin, and accepted the position of a calculator, with the title of a Professor, at the Berlin Academy of Sciences. At that time, Johann (III.) Bernoulli (1744-1807) was the Academy Astronomer and director of the Berlin observatory, but did little observing. Bode immediately started busy work: First, he took over the calculations for the Schlesien Calendar, introduced by the old Christine Kirch (1696-1782), a grand-daughter of Gottfried Kirch. Together with Lambert, he founded the German language ephemeris, the Astronomisches Jahrbuch oder Ephemeriden [Astronomical Yearbook and Ephemeris] in 1774, later called simply Astronomisches Jahrbuch and then Berliner Astronomisches Jahrbuch, which he continued to publish alone after Lambert's untimely death in 1777, and continued to do so until his death in 1826.
In July 1774, Bode married Johanna Christiane Lange (1754-1782), the granddaughter of a sister of Christine Kirch; they had four children. Unfortunately, his wife died shortly after the birth of their fourth child. In the following year, 1783, he married Johanna's elder sister, Sophie Dorothea Lange (c. 1752-1790); they had one son, but she also died early, in 1790. A year later, he married his third wife, Charlotte Wilhelmine Lehmann (1752-1822); they had another three children.
In late 1774, Bode started to look for nebulae and star clusters in the sky, and observed 20 of them in 1774-1775. Among them are three original discoveries: M81 and M82 which he both discovered on December 31, 1774, and M53, discovered on February 3, 1775, as well as a newly cataloged asterism.
Bode merged his discoveries and other observed objects with those from other catalogs he had access, namely the existing objects and most of the asterisms and non-objects from Hevelius' catalog, the sufficiently northern objects from Lacaille's catalog, most of the 45 objects in the first 1771 edition of Messier's catalog, and some others, to a "Complete Catalog of hitherto observed Nebulous Stars and Star Clusters" of an overall 75 entries, which he published in 1777 in the "Astronomisches Jahrbuch" for 1779 (Bode 1777). Unfortunately, he added a large number of non-existing objects without verification, in particular from Hevelius, so that over 20 of his objects don't exist.
In the years following, he discovered two more objects: His original discovery of M92 occurred on December 31, 1777, and he found M64 on April 4, 1779, only 12 days after Edward Pigott had first discovered it. These two discoveries were announced along with the publication of Koehler's catalog in 1779 in the Astronomisches Jahrbuch for 1782. Consequently, he continued to compile catalogs and atlasses, and in his 1782 "Vorstellung der Gestirne" (Bode 1782): This work is based on charts from Jean Fortin's 1776 edition of Flamsteed's Atlas Coelestis of 1729 (Flamsteed 1729, Fortin 1776), but enriched with the clusters and nebulae known to Bode at that time. In this work, in addition to those previously known, he first publishes his own independent rediscoveries of open clusters M48 (NGC 2548) in Hydra and IC 4665 in Ophiuchus.
On January 6, 1779, Johann Elert Bode discovered the comet of that year (C/1779 A1, 1779 Bode). It was on the occasion of observing this comet that astronomers Messier, Darquier, Koehler and Oriani discovered a number of "nebulae": M56, M57, M58, M59, M60, and M61. He also observed a number of other comets and calculated cometary orbits. In 1788 he and independently Capel Lofft predicted the return of the comet of 1661, C/1661, then observed by Hevelius, for 1789, but that comet was not found. It is now speculated that comet C/2002 C1 Ikeya-Zhang may be a reappearance of that comet.
Bode was greatly interested in the new planet discovered by William Herschel in March 1781. While Herschel always referred to this planet as "Georgium Sidus" to honor King George III of England, and Messier called it "Herschel" or "Herschel's Planet," and Peitnet de Sevoy, "Cybele," Bode proposed the name "Uranus," which was soon adopted by the rest of the world. Bode collected virtually all observations of this planet by various astronomers, published many of them in the Astronomisches Jahrbuch, and found that Uranus had been observed before its discovery on a number of occasions, among them an observation of Tobias Mayer from 1756, and earliest by Flamsteed, in December 1690, cataloged as "star" 34 Tauri.
After the time of 1781-1782, no significant observations by Bode of comets and nebulous objects are reported, probably a consequence of his work and interest on Uranus, increasing workload with his publications and duties within the Academy, also perhaps the death of his first wife in 1782, and recurring eye probelms.
In 1786, Bode was elected as a member of the Berlin academy, and in 1787 he succeeded Bernoulli as the Director of the Berlin Observatory.
In 1801 he published his famous and popular star atlas, Uranographia (Bode 1801), where he reproduced or introduced a number of new and strange constellaitons, including "Officina Typographica," "Apparatus Chemica," "Globus Aerostaticus," "Honores Frederici," "Felis," and "Custos Messium," all of which have not survived and vanished from modern star charts. Only "Quadrans Muralis," the Mural Quadrant, has survived in the name of the Quadrantid meteor stream, which has its radiant in that former constellation, now part of Bootes.
In 1825, after almost 40 years, Bode retired from the post of a director of the Berlin Observatory, and was succeeded by Johann Franz Encke (1791-1865). Johann Elert Bode died on November 23, 1826 in Berlin, Germany, when he was still working on the Jahrbuch for 1830.
Bode was honored by naming a Moon Crater after him (6.7N, 2.4W, 18.0 km diameter, in 1935); this had been first proposed by Wilhelm Gotthelf Lohrmann (1796-1840) as early as 1824. Asteroid (998) Bodea was named after him; it had been discovered on August 6, 1923 by Karl Wilhelm Reinmuth (1892-1979) in Heidelberg, provisionally desginated 1923 NU and on a later independent sighting, 1967 PA. Also, the galaxy M81 which he discovered is popularly known as "Bode's Nebula" or "Bode's Galaxy", and sometimes both M81 and M82 are referred to as "Bode's Nebulae" or "Bode's Galaxies".
Bode was the original discoverer of the deepsky objects M81, M82 (both December 31, 1774), M53 (February 3, 1775) and M92 (December 31, 1777), and independent rediscoverer of M64 (April 4, 1779), as well as M48 (NGC 2548) and IC 4665 (both before 1782).