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 most magical predictive-math event in the history of the oldest science'
Dennis Rawlins, Dio 1999 9.1 p.5.

'The strange series of wonderful occurrences of which  I am to speak is utterly unparalleled in the whole history of science; - the brilliant analysis which was the direct occasion of the search for a trans-Uranian planet, - the actual detection of an exterior planet in almost precisely the direction indicated, - the immediate and most unexpected claim to an equal share of merit in the investigation, made in behalf of a mathematician till then unknown to the scientific world, - and finally the startling  discovery, that, in spite of all this, the orbit of  the new planet was totally irreconcilable with those computations which had led immediately to its detection, and that, although found in the direction predicted, it was by no means in the predicted place, nor yet in the predicted orb.'
Benjamin Gould, Report on the History of the Discovery of Neptune Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1850, p.3.

The ever-charming tale of Neptune's discovery does need some readjustment, if it is to retain its credibility. The traditional tale has depended unduly upon interpretations that were given only after Neptune's discovery. It is necessary to disentangle such post-discovery reconstructions from historical events. This website reproduces archived documents as have been central to the history of the debate, occasioned by the fortunate rediscovery of Britain's 'Neptune file' (1999) after it had gone missing for several decades. It also re-evaluates the traditional narrative, with the help of this newly-found file. We will assume familiarity with the traditional story, and here the recent publication The Neptune File by Tom Standage (2000) may be recommended. Patrick Moore's The Planet Neptune (1988) is also useful, as reproducing essential documents and letters.

This website is part of an ongoing project to catalogue all of the correspondence related to the British hunt for Neptune 1834-49, with the aid of a Royal Society grant. Visitors to this site may be interested in my study of Newton's Lunar Theory of 1702, also part of the UCL Science & Technology Studies website.

Any comments are welcome.

Nick Kollerstrom
October 2001,
Science & Technology Studies Department, University College London

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