January 21st John Couch Adams FRS (Death)  

Launceston-born John Couch Adams  (1819 – 1892) is renowned for his discovery of the planet Neptune by calculations and predictions alone which he based on realised discrepancies between the observed orbit of Uranus and calculations based on the laws of  Kepler and Newton.

Adams was the son of tenant farming parents who were strongly in favour of education, and one of his brothers, William Grylls Adams FRS (February 18th), became Professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy at King’s College London.   At the age of twelve, he started studying at his uncle’s private school in Devonport where he became fascinated by mathematics and astronomy, observing Halley’s Comet in 1835, which inspired him to start making his own astronomical calculations and predictions. 

Due to an inheritance received by his mother, Adams was sent to Cambridge (St. John’s College) to study mathematics, graduating in 1836 as top of his year, ‘First Wrangler’.  Adams became aware of observations of the orbit of Uranus, which contained proven unexpected discrepancies from predictions.

On vacation in Cornwall, Adams used the discrepancies to predict the mass and velocity of an unknown planet which could be the only explanation for the discrepancies.  Beyond this, Adams also worked on magnetism and, in 1860, he was appointed Director of the Cambridge Observatory.





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