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John Couch Adams and the Discovery of Neptune

    Abstract

    In a small book of forty-three pages, by Sir Harold Spencer Jones, the Astronomer Royal (Cambridge University Press), many misunderstandings regarding Airy and Adams have been rectified, so those who desire an unbiased view of the matter should read the book. Most people have been inclined to blame Airy for not giving more consideration to Adams when he announced the results which he had obtained, but it is shown that Airy was not really to blame and that the failure of Adams to reply to certain questions relating to the radius vector of Uranus was probably responsible for his loss of the sole glory of the discovery of Neptune. Airy seems to have behaved with remarkable courtesy to Adams, who was of a retiring disposition and who realized later what he had lost by not answering Airy's letter. Incidentally, it is shown that Challis did not appear in a very creditable light when all the facts were made known and that Le Verrier's subsequent behaviour could scarcely be described as becoming in a man of his ability. However, the painful controversy having ended, astronomers can only endorse the words of Sir John Herschel, addressing the Royal Astronomical Society in 1848, and speaking of Le Verrier and Adams: “May they both long adorn and augment our science, and add to their fame, already so high and pure, by fresh achievements”.

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