They Told The Story
A Neptune Chronology
Adams Dated Computations
The Forgotten Diary
Within One Degree
The Crown Jewels Document
Announcing The Discovery
Challis' Unseen Testimony
A Retrospective History
A Cantab. Clique
Adam's July Ephemeris
Mapless In Cambridge
Airy Tells the Truth
The Radius Vector: A Trivial Question?
Airy Blows His Top
Eggen Takes the Papers
Selected Correspondence
Primary Sources
Related Links.



''...the place of the Cambridge network in the British scientific community is central to understanding the events surrounding Neptune's discovery.' (R. Smith 1989 p.397)

John’s College and Trinity are adjacent colleges in Cambridge, and those promoting Adams’ cause all attended one of them. Trinity was Isaac Newton's college, strangely relevant if the new planet’s prediction was indeed ‘the zenith of Newtonian mechanics’ (N.R.Hansen, Isis 1962, 53, p.359).


John’s College:

  • John Couch Adams, Senior Wrangler 1823, training for Anglican ministry

  • George Biddell Airy, Senior Wrangler 1823, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics 1826, Plumian Professor of Astronomy 1828, Astronomer Royal 1835.

  • Sir John Herschel, Fellow of John’s, President of the BAAS

  • Trinity College:

  • The Reverend James Challis, Senior Wrangler, Fellow of Trinity College, Director of the Cambridge Observatory 1836-56, and President of the Cambridge Philosophical Society 1845-7.

  • Adam Sedgwick, Fellow of Trinity College.

  • The Reverend Richard Sheepshanks, Secretary of the RAS

  • Augustus de Morgan, mathematician on RAS council, who wrote the Athenaeum editorials
  • .

    Sheepshanks as Secretary of the RAS prevented that society from ‘complete disruption’ during the crisis, by his temperate behaviour, according to Sophie de Morgan (1882, p.134). While the Athenaeum editorials were anonymous, it was revealed by de Morgan’s wife Sophie that de Morgan had written them (Ibid, pp128-132). This journal was the main British forum debating the British claim, and its editorials exerted considerable influence amongst the cognoscenti.

    An article on ‘The Cambridge Network in Action’ about Neptune’s discovery by R.W.Smith (Isis 1989 80 395-422) found that the large majority of the Board of Visitors at the June ’46 RGO meeting were ex-Cantabs., and four of them were professors. His article stressed the values which Cantabs shared in common. When Airy commenced his tenure of the RGO it was on condition that he could sack the First Assistant, and get one with ‘a respectable Cambridge degree’ (Autobiography, p.109).

    John Hind was the one British noncantab. involved in the planet-quest. He worked at the Regent’s Park Observatory and was an RAS Council-member, having previously worked at the RGO. As the first Englishman to see Neptune, his letter in The Times on October 1st reported its discovery. He at once wrote to his friend Adams on the 30th, saying:
    ‘Understanding from Prof Challis that you are occupied about the planet of Le Verrier, I think you will be gratified to learn… etc.’

    Then, as he sensed the brewing-up of the prior-prediction claim he wrote indignantly to the Reverend Richard Sheepshanks, RAS Secretary:

    ‘the Cambridge people .. do their best for their own .. I am sure you must have noticed the inexcusable secrecy observed by all those acquainted with Mr Adams results … [a] secrecy which I hold to deprive him of all share in the discovery & I am very glad to find that I am not the only one who thinks so.’ (RAS archives, Sheepshanks papers 12th Nov. 1846)

    The Athenaeum Editorials

    A month after the discovery, when no British documents had been produced nor had anyone heard what Mr Adams' predictions were supposed to have been, De Morgan's editorial (Oct 31) in the Athenaeum advised: 'Mr Adams' claim, whatever it may be, should not be lost by an early statement of the facts upon proof of which it is to rest ... the facts of the discovery ... rest on records, and are perpetuated on paper.' De Morgan hadn’t seen these records, but that didn't stop him from claiming that Mr Adams had 'furnished Mr Challis with the means of actually securing two observations of the planet previous to any such announcement by M.Leverrier.'

    In fact, what Adams had given to Challis to assist his sky-search was based upon Le Verrier's June publication (see "Adams' July Ephemeris"), and what Adams had given to Challis prior to Leverrier's announcement was not known to de Morgan any more than it is to us; but, were it perchance the document to which Sampson pointed, than it erred by three degrees and was not potentially accurate enough to find the planet (see "Challis’ Unseen Testimony").

    A month later (December 5th), de Morgan’s editorial accused Arago, Director of the Paris Observatory, of 'mania,' and alluded to his 'distorting mirror of national bias.'

    Adams Photograph by permission of the Master & Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge