Urbain Le Verrier


Urbain LeVerrier Cool!

Le Verrier theorized that there was a second asteroid belt in our solar system. He believed the second belt was between the Sun and Mercury. We now know that this second belt does not exist.

Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier was born in 1811 at Saint-Lô, France. At the age of 26, he was appointed a teacher of astronomy at the Ecole Polytechnic Paris. Immediately after his appointment he began an intensive study of the motion of Mercury. He compiled extensive tables detailing the planet's motion, including its unusual characteristic of a varying perihelion. By 1845 Le Verrier had become interested in the motion of the planet Uranus. Uranus did not have the orbit scientists expected it to have based on their mathematical calculations. Le Verrier set out to determine why. Through mathematical calculations, he predicted the presence of another planet beyond Uranus. The gravitational pull of this planet would explain the unusual motion of Uranus. Le Verrier gave his calculations to astronomer Johann Gottried Galle at the Berlin Observatory. Using Le Verrier's calculations, Galle was able to observe the planet within one hour of starting. Le Verrier expected to be declared the sole discoverer of Neptune, but months prior to his calculations being completed John Couch Adams, an English mathematician, had accomplished the same feat. As a consequence, Le Verrier and Adams share the honor as Neptune's discoverers.

In 1854, Le Verrier became director of the Observatory of Paris. At the time, this observatory was in decay. Le Verrier reestablished the observatory as a place where good science was taking place. He often used very tough measures at the observatory. As a consequence, a storm of protest led to his removal as director in 1870. He was reinstated as director in 1873. Urbain Le Verrier died in Paris in 1877.

A Question

What planet led Le Verrier to predict the existence of Neptune?

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