Neptune was the first planet to be found by mathematical predictions rather that observation. But who discovered Neptune? This post will answer that question!
Who Discovered Neptune?
Galileo Galilei’s drawings show that he first observed Neptune on December 28, 1612 and January 27, 1613. However, he is not credited with discovering Neptune as he thought Neptune was a fixed star.
The most important ‘stepping stone’ to the discovery of Neptune was the astronomical tables of the orbit of Uranus (which we now know is the closest planet to Neptune) published by Alexis Bouvard in 1812. Observations over the next 10-20 years revealed that Uranus had a much different orbit than expected. Bouvard thought that a body must be affecting Uranus’ orbit.
In 1843, John Coach Adams hypothesised that a planet would account for Uranus’ strange orbital path. He sent his calculations to Sir George Airy who asked Adams for clarification on his work. He started on a reply but never finished it.
In 1845 and 1846, Urbain Le Verrier developed his own independent calculations of where he thought ‘Neptune’ might be. He convinced an astronomer at Berlin University to search for the planet. The very day they received the letter from Le Verrier requesting the search (23 September, 1846) they found Neptune. It was only 1 degree off where Le Verrier had predicted it would be and 12 degrees off where Adams thought it would be.
As they had both made independent predictions, Le Verrier and Adams were given joint credit for discovering Neptune. However, some historians believe Adams does not deserve credit for his discovery as he had only made a few rough calculations and didn’t really know where Neptune was.
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