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Leverrier, Urbain Jean Joseph

perihelion orbit advance planet

[luhveryay] (1811–77) French astronomer: predicted position of Neptune and discovered advance of perihelion of Mercury.

Leverrier was a student and then a teacher at the École Polytechnique, initially in chemistry and later in astronomy. Realizing that the irregularity of the orbit of Uranus was due to the influence of an undiscovered planet further out, Leverrier succeeded in computing the mass and orbit of the perturbing body. He sent his prediction of the missing planet’s position to Johann Galle (1812–1910) in Berlin, who discovered Neptune on his first night of looking, 23 September 1846. Although Leverrier initially received the credit for the discovery, it soon became clear that had made the same prediction a year earlier; this led to a celebrated dispute, not made easier by Leverrier’s arrogance and violent temper.

Leverrier was the first to appreciate the advance of the perihelion (the point of its orbit nearest the Sun) of Mercury, and predicted the existence of a planet between Mercury and the Sun to explain it, even going so far as to name it Vulcan. No such planet has ever been found, and the advance of the perihelion was subsequently explained using theory of general relativity.

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