most magical predictive-math event in the history of the oldest
Dennis Rawlins, Dio
1999 9.1 p.5.
'The strange series of wonderful
occurrences of which I am to speak is utterly unparalleled
in the whole history of science; - the brilliant analysis which
was the direct occasion of the search for a trans-Uranian planet,
- the actual detection of an exterior planet in almost precisely
the direction indicated, - the immediate and most unexpected claim
to an equal share of merit in the investigation, made in behalf
of a mathematician till then unknown to the scientific world, -
and finally the startling discovery, that, in spite of all
this, the orbit of the new planet was totally irreconcilable
with those computations which had led immediately to its detection,
and that, although found in the direction predicted, it was by no
means in the predicted place, nor yet in the predicted orb.'
Benjamin Gould, Report
on the History of the Discovery of Neptune Washington DC: Smithsonian
Institution, 1850, p.3.
The ever-charming tale of Neptune's
discovery does need some readjustment, if it is to retain its credibility.
The traditional tale has depended unduly upon interpretations that
were given only after Neptune's discovery. It is necessary to disentangle
such post-discovery reconstructions from historical events. This
website reproduces archived documents as have been central to the
history of the debate, occasioned by the fortunate rediscovery of
Britain's 'Neptune file' (1999) after it had gone missing for several
decades. It also re-evaluates the traditional narrative, with the
help of this newly-found file. We will assume familiarity
with the traditional story, and here the recent publication
The Neptune File by Tom Standage (2000) may be recommended.
Patrick Moore's The Planet Neptune (1988) is also useful,
as reproducing essential documents and letters.
This website is part of an ongoing
project to catalogue all of the correspondence related to the British
hunt for Neptune 1834-49, with the aid of a Royal Society grant.
Visitors to this site may be interested in my study of Newton's
Lunar Theory of 1702, also part of the UCL Science & Technology
Any comments are welcome.
Science & Technology Studies Department, University College
Neptune Image courtesy NASA-JPL
Web Design by Colin Walker