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The race to discover Neptune

ADAMS, JOHN COUCH. (English) An Explanation of the Observed Irregularities in the Motion of Uranus, on the Hypothesis of Disturbances caused by a more Distant Planet

London: Published by the Society, 1847.

v, 584 pp., map. In 8-page sheets, folded and untrimmed, accompanied by buff printed wrapper. Protective folding case. Fine.

“One of the most interesting chapters in the history of astronomy”
(Encylopedia Britannica, 11th ed.).

The discovery of Neptune is highlighted by two singular features: that its existence was correctly surmised on a theoretical prediction, and the contention between its contemporaneous discoverers, British astronomer John Adams and French mathematician Urbain Le Verrier.

This collection of relevant publications includes Adams’s plea to the Royal Astronomical Society and a chronological arrangement of Le Verrier’s formulas and comments in select Comptes Rendus. After a brief but intense period of public controversy, Adams and Le Verrier were each granted the status of “co-discoverer.” Adams was an amateur astronomer from an early age and had noticed, along with many scientists, irregularities in the orbit predicted for Uranus. Fresh out of university, Adams presented his findings in 1845 to Challis, then to Royal Astronomer Airy, in the hopes of instigating a search for a hypothetical undiscovered planet. His findings were paid no serious attention until 1846, when Le Verrier published accounts of his own search, having reached the same conclusion as Adams. When their story was picked up by the London Times, Challis looked back through his notes and realized he had spotted the planet but had not recognized it among the stars he had recorded. Challis, Airy, and Adams brought their case before the Royal Astronomical Society in November of 1846, and their papers are reproduced here in the annual “Memoirs” of the Society.

[with]

JAMES CHALLIS. An Account of Observations undertaken in search of the Planet discovered at Berlin on Sept. 23, 1846.

[and]

G. B. AIRY. Account of some Circumstances historically connected with the Discovery of the Planet exterior to Uranus.

All in Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society, vol. XVI.

$1,800