a single patent of first order. There never was a monopoly
Alike for the memory of Hamilton, for the credit of his University, and for the benefit of science, let us hope that a collected edition of his works will ere long appear--a collection which shall show those early achievements in splendid optical theory, those achievements of his more mature powers which made him the Lagrange of his country, and finally those creations of the Quaternion Calculus by which new capabilities have been bestowed on the human intellect.
The name of Le Verrier is one that goes down to fame on account of very different discoveries from those which have given renown to several of the other astronomers whom we have mentioned. We are sometimes apt to identify the idea of an astronomer with that of a man who looks through a telescope at the stars; but the word astronomer has really much wider significance. No man who ever lived has been more entitled to be designated an astronomer than Le Verrier, and yet it is certain that he never made a telescopic discovery of any kind. Indeed, so far as his scientific achievements have been concerned, he might never have looked through a telescope at all.
For the full interpretation of the movements of the heavenly bodies, mathematical knowledge of the most advanced character is demanded. The mathematician at the outset calls upon the astronomer who uses the instruments in the observatory, to ascertain for him at various times the exact positions occupied by the sun, the moon, and the planets. These observations, obtained with the greatest care, and purified as far as possible from the errors by which they may be affected form, as it were, the raw material on which the mathematician exercises his skill. It is for him to elicit from the observed places the true laws which govern the movements of the heavenly bodies. Here is indeed a task in which the highest powers of the human intellect may be worthily employed.
Among those who have laboured with the greatest success in the interpretation of the observations made with instruments of precision, Le Verrier holds a highly honoured place. To him it has been given to provide a superb illustration of the success with which the mind of man can penetrate the deep things of Nature.
The illustrious Frenchman, Urban Jean Joseph Le Verrier, was born on the 11th March, 1811, at St. Lo, in the department of Manche. He received his education in that famous school for education in the higher branches of science, the Ecole Polytechnique, and acquired there considerable fame as a mathematician. On leaving the school Le Verrier at first purposed to devote himself to the public service, in the department of civil engineering; and it is worthy of note that his earliest scientific work was not in those mathematical researches in which he was ultimately to become so famous. His duties in the engineering department involved practical chemical research in the laboratory. In this he seems to have become very expert, and probably fame as a chemist would have been thus attained, had not destiny led him into another direction. As it was, he did engage in some original chemical research. His first contributions to science were the fruits of his laboratory work; one of his papers was on the combination of phosphorus and hydrogen, and another on the combination of phosphorus and oxygen.
His mathematical labours at the Ecole Polytechnique had, however, revealed to Le Verrier that he was endowed with the powers requisite for dealing with the subtlest instruments of mathematical analysis. When he was twenty-eight years old, his first great astronomical investigation was brought forth. It will be necessary to enter into some explanation as to the nature of this, inasmuch as it was the commencement of the life-work which he was to pursue.
If but a single planet revolved around the sun, then the orbit of that planet would be an ellipse, and the shape and size, as well as the position of the ellipse, would never alter. One revolution after another would be traced out, exactly in the same manner, in compliance with the force continuously exerted by the sun. Suppose, however, that a second planet be introduced into the system. The sun will exert its attraction on this second planet also, and it will likewise describe an orbit round the central globe. We can, however, no longer assert that the orbit in which either of the planets moves remains exactly an ellipse. We may, indeed, assume that the mass of the sun is enormously greater than that of either of the planets. In this case the attraction of the sun is a force of such preponderating magnitude, that the actual path of each planet remains nearly the same as if the other planet were absent. But it is impossible for the orbit of each planet not to be affected in some degree by the attraction of the other planet. The general law of nature asserts that every body in space attracts every other body. So long as there is only a single planet, it is the single attraction between the sun and that planet which is the sole controlling principle of the movement, and in consequence of it the ellipse is described. But when a second planet is introduced, each of the two bodies is not only subject to the attraction of the sun, but each one of the planets attracts the other. It is true that this mutual attraction is but small, but, nevertheless, it produces some effect. It "disturbs," as the astronomer says, the elliptic orbit which would otherwise have been pursued. Hence it follows that in the actual planetary system where there are several planets disturbing each other, it is not true to say that the orbits are absolutely elliptic.
At the same time in any single revolution a planet may for most practical purposes be said to be actually moving in an ellipse. As, however, time goes on, the ellipse gradually varies. It alters its shape, it alters its plane, and it alters its position in that plane. If, therefore, we want to study the movements of the planets, when great intervals of time are concerned, it is necessary to have the means of learning the nature of the movement of the orbit in consequence of the disturbances it has experienced.
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