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Adams, John Couch

prediction astronomer planet influence

(1819–92) British astronomer: predicted existence of Neptune.

As the son of a tenant farmer, Adams had financial problems in entering Cambridge, but his career was successful and he remained there throughout his life.

By 1820 it had become apparent to astronomers that the motion of Uranus could not be explained by law of gravitation and the influence of the known planets alone, since a small but increasing perturbation in its orbit had been observed. While still an undergraduate, Adams proved that the deviation had to be due to the influence of an eighth, undiscovered, planet. He sent his prediction for its position to , the Astronomer Royal, who was sceptical of its value and ignored it. Only when , in France, announced similar results 9 months later did Airy initiate a search by James Challis (1803–82) at the Cambridge Observatory, based on Adams’s prediction. The planet, now named Neptune, was however found first by Johann Galle (1812–1910) in Berlin in 1846, using Leverrier’s figures. A bitter controversy about the credit for the prediction soon developed. Adams’s precedence was eventually recognized, despite his taking no part in the debate. He turned down the subsequent offers of a knighthood and the post of Astronomer Royal.

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