Maths and the Discovery of Planet Neptune

Neptune is the eighth planet from the sun in our solar system. The discovery of Neptune is remarkable in the sense that it is predicted with mathematical accuracy.

Both John Couch Adams and Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier are credited with the discovery of Neptune by mathematical computation. Both of them worked independently and arrived at the same result.

Their computations led to the sightings of Neptune on September 23, 1846. The exact location varied a degree from the computation of Le Verrier and 12 degrees from the computation of Adams.

While Neptune was observed much earlier in history, notably by Galileo in the years 1612 and 1613, Galileo failed to recognize Neptune for what it actually was. He thought that he was looking at a fixed star.

After the discovery of the planet Uranus, the seventh planet in the solar system, and the subsequent mapping of Uranus movement, astronomers suspected that there was something out there that affected the movement of Uranus.

In 1843, Adams did some calculations and predicted that the gravitational pull from an eighth planet was causing all the weird movement of Uranus. Unfortunately, Adams did not pursue the calculations with much eagerness until a much later date. He sent in his predictions to Royal Greenwich Observatory in September 1846.

In 1846, Le Verrier completed an independent computation and predicted the exact position for Neptune. He sent the prediction to the French Academy on August 31, 1846.

Both of them predicted the sightings to be September 23,1846. Both of them using separate raw data from different observatory points on earth and arrived at almost the same result. In the year 1846, computer and scientific calculators were not invented. The two great mathematicians did their calculations manually.

So folks, encourage your children to study mathematics diligently. You do not know how your children will make use of mathematics. Whenever your children ask you what’s the purpose of solving all the silly mathematics word problems, do tell them the story of the planet Neptune.

The discovery of the eighth planet shows that mathematics is more than just adding the cost of apples to the cost of a loaf of bread when you are shopping in the supermarket.

Mathematics is useful in all aspects of our lives. Even though most of us do not use mathematics to compute the celestial movements, we do use it to check our salary and various deductions.