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.



adams1_4.jpg (33042 bytes)A fragment of Adams' 1846 diary remains, for the month of March, never quoted or even mentioned by historians. This may reflect upon some difficulty of access to the John’s College archives, for it has been there all along! It gives a day-by day account of the life of a Cambridge astronomer, showing a close liason with James Challis, seventeen years older than him, working at the Observatory just outside town, a pleasant stroll from his College. The diary-fragment has two days for 1844 (these describe Challis visiting Adams twice within four days) and fifteen for March of 1846, of which about half allude to Challis and/or the Observatory at Cambridge. That for February 12th, 1844 shows Adams grappling with a cometary paths:

'Prof Challis brought one of the Notices of the Astr. Socy. containing my results respecting the Comet.'

In January of 1846 there appeared 'a phenomenon which struck every astronomer with amazement' to quote Herschel: a comet divided into two (Herschel, Outlines of Astronomy, 1849, p.359). Such a thing was hitherto unheard-of and created a sensation. But quickly Adams, as his diary records for March 9th, 1846:

adams2a_sm.jpg (22930 bytes)'...solved the equations for determining the relative distance and velocities of the two heads of Biela's comet and communicated the results to Professor Challis, in the evening for his communication to the Philosophical Society' [a Cambridge club, of which Challis was then the President].

The next day Adams improved his comet calculations, receiving some more data from Challis and then going in the evening to the Observatory to view the comet.
March 14th found him weary:

'Did not do much today, feeling rather tired. Walked as far as Observatory with Challis & then went to the Courts.'

- he does not walk to the Observatory to meet Challis, as one might expect. (Challis was then living at the Observatory, as the Plumean astronomy professor there, while Adams lived at St John's College a mile or so away). He reports on his work to Challis, Challis comes round to his house, and he stays at the Observatory 'till late'. On March 19th, he is
'finding the differential effect of refraction on two objects observed near each other by an equatorial', where he 'worked some cases given by Airy'. adams2b_sm.jpg (10841 bytes)

Six out of the 15 days of 1846 mention Challis and/or the Observatory; while adding the 1844 fragments gives 8 out of 17. One is surprised at the way all previous commentators have ignored the diary of the co-predictor of Neptune over the very year of its discovery. 'Adams was his own private friend' wrote Mrs Airy of Challis (writing to Sedgwick 9th December 1846). The recent biography of Adams only starts quoting from his diaries one decade later, and, in common with earlier accounts, gives no hint of any special friendship with Challis.

Hind wrote to Adams on Feb.28, 1846 discussing details of Biela's comet, 'as you state in your note received yesterday.' Biela's comet was of short period and had been seen only once before. It returned as a double-comet in 1852, and thereafter gave rise to a meteor-shower, the Andromedids.

As to why all of Adams' 1845 and the rest of the 1846 diaries are missing, though in general 'He hardly destroyed anything he wrote' as Glaisher observed (Preface to Adams’ Scientific Papers, 1986), I suggest that Adams had no wish for a record of his close liason with Challis to endure, but on the other hand he did want to record his working on 'Biela's comet' and the finding of his method to clear atmospheric refaction from telescope observations. These were used (presumably) by Challis and Airy for their telescopes, and both were recorded in his March entries. In February he corresponded with the astronomer Hind about the comet, receiving on the 28th a letter from Hind and then in April gave his address to the RAS about it.

Challis’ Report to the Cambridge Board of Governors on 12th December 1846, in his capacity of Director of the Observatory, affirmed of the period between Autumn 1845 and midsummer 1846, ‘I had little communication with Mr Adams respecting the new planet.’ (Adams Scientific Papers, One is startled by such outright mendacity from a reverend. The diary-fragments strongly indicate that Challis was closer to Adams, over this period, than was anyone else (except, possibly, his family). They were seeing each other every few days and Adams would often stay ‘till late’ at the Observatory. Later on, they together dreamed up the blissful-sounding name ‘Oceanus,’ and Challis proposed it! (Athenaeum, Oct 17th p.1069) Then, in his Nov. 3rd letter to Airy, Challis feels able to speak on Adams' behalf to Airy, about the big meeting coming up: '...I can give no hope of Adams being able to undertake the Astronomical Report'.

Both Challis and Airy strove to give the impression that they hardly knew Adams, while simultaneously giving him credit for one of the greatest astronomical discoveries ever. Why would they want to do that?