37th DPS Meeting, 4-9 September 2005
Session 26 Planetary Sciences II
HAD Oral, Tuesday, September 6, 2005, 2:00-3:30pm, Umney Theatre, Robinson College

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[26.03] John Herschel's position in the post-Neptune discovery debates.

N. Kollerstrom (Science and Technology Studies Department, University College London)

In the course of archiving Britain's Neptune correspondence I have transcribed letters by Herschel (from the Royal Society Library) that have been little appreciated by scholars. The great polemical debates took place chiefly within the RAS but also affecting the Royal Society and the British Association, and Herschel was very much at the centre of things. His views become especially interesting once the sceptical American view started to be heard some months after the discovery, that because the real Neptune was so very different in its motions from that predicted by Adams and LeVerrier, and because the 2:1 resonance between Uranus and Neptune is such a large effect and yet was wholly unknown to these two, the prediction had to have been a mere happy coincidence. Herschel's view that the synchrony involved was beneficial for public understanding of science remains of relevance today. During these intense debates, Herschel was completing his bestseller 'Outlines of Astronomy' that was to go through twelve editions.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 37 #3
© 2004. The American Astronomical Soceity.