with the approximate data will differ from its observed place. Then the difficulty is to ascertain what elements are most in fault, since the difference in question is the error of all; that is obviated by finding the errors of some thousands of observations, and combining them, so as to correct the elements simultaneously, and to make the sum of the squares of the errors a minimum with regard to each element (N. 138). The method of accomplishing this depends upon the Theory of Probabilities ; a subject fertile in most important results in the various departments of science and of civil life, and quite indispensable in the determination of astronomical data. A series of observations continued for some years will give approximate values of the secular and periodic inequalities, which must be corrected from time to time, till theory and observation agree. And these again will give values of the masses of the bodies forming the solar system, which are important data in computing their motions. The periodic inequalities derived from a great number of observations are employed for the determination of the values of the masses till such time as the secular inequalities shall be perfectly known, which will then give them with all the necessary precision. When all these quantities are determined in numbers, the longitude, latitude, and distance of the planet from the sun are computed for stated intervals, and formed into tables, arranged according to the time estimated from a given epoch, so that the place of the body may be determined from them by inspection alone, at any instant for perhaps a thousand years before and after that epoch. By this tedious process, tables have been computed for all the great planets, and several of the small, besides the moon and the satellites of Jupiter. In the present state of astronomy the masses and elements of the orbits are pretty well known, so that the tables only require to be corrected from time to time as observations become more accurate.. Those containing the motions of Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus have already been twice constructed within the last thirty years, and the tables of Jupiter and Saturn agree almost perfectly with modern observation. The following prediction will be found in the sixth edition of this book, published in the year 1842: “ Those of Uranus, however, are already defective, probably because the discovery of that planet in 1781 is too recent to admit of much precision in the determination of * its motions, or that possibly it may be subject to disturbances from some unseen planet revolving about the sun beyond the present boundaries of our system. If, after a lapse of years, the tables formed from a combination of numerous observations should be still inadequate to represent the motions of Uranus, the discrepancies may reveal the existence, nay, even the mass and orbit, of a body placed for ever beyond the sphere of vision.” That prediction has been fulfilled since the seventh edition of this book was published. Not only the existence of Neptune, revolving at the distance of three thousand millions of miles from the sun, has been discovered from his disturbing action on Uranus, but his mass, the form and position of his orbit in space, and his periodic time had been determined before the planet had been seen, and the planet itself was discovered in the very point of the heavens which had been assigned to it. It had been noticed for years that the perturbation of Uranus had increased in an unaccountable manner (N. 139). After the disturbing action of all the known planets had been determined, it was found that, between the years 1833 and 1837, the observed and computed distance of Uranus from the sun differed by 24,000 miles, which is about the mean distance of the moon from the earth, while, in 1841, the error in the geocentric longitude of the planet amounted to 96". These diserepancies were therefore attributed to the attraction of some unseen and unknown planet, consequently they gave rise to a case altogether unprecedented in the history of astronomy. Heretofore it was required to determine the disturbing action of one known planet upon another. Whereas the inverse problem had now to be solved, in which it was required to find the place of an unknown body in the heavens, at a given time, together with its mass, and the form and posi. tion of its orbit, from the disturbance it produced on the motions of another. The difficulty was extreme, because all the elements of the orbit of Uranus were erroneous from the action of Neptune, and those of Neptune's orbit were unknown. In this dilemma it was necessary to form some hypothesis with regard to the unknown planet; it was therefore assumed, according to Bode's empirical law on the mean distances of the planets, that it was revolving at twice the distance of Uranus from the sun. * Neptune was discovered in the year 1846. In fact, the periodic time of Uranus is about 84 years, and, as the discrepancies in his motions increased slowly and regularly, it was evident that it would require a planet with a much longer periodic time to produce them-moreover, it was clear that the new planet must be exterior to Uranus, otherwise it would have disturbed the motions of Saturn. Another circumstance tended to lessen the difficulty ; the latitude of Uranus was not much affected, therefore it was concluded that the inclination of the orbit of the unknown body must be very small, and, as that of the orbit of Uranus is only 46' 28":4, both planets were assumed to be moving in the plane of the ecliptic, and thus the elements of the orbit of the unknown planet were reduced from six to four. Having thus assumed that the unknown body was revolving in a circle in the plane of the ecliptic, the analytical expression of its action on the motion of Uranus, when in numerous points of its orbit, was compared with the observed longitude of Uranus, through a regular series of years, by means of which the faulty elements of the orbit of Uranus were eliminated, or got rid of, and there only remained a relation between the mass of the new planet and three of the elements of its orbit; and it then was necessary to assume such a value for two of them as would suit the rest. That was accomplished so dexterously, that the perturbations of Uranus were perfectly conformable to the motions of Neptune, moving in the orbit thus found, and the place of the new planet exactly agreed with observation. Subsequently its orbit and motions have been determined more accurately. The honour of this admirable effort of genius is shared by Mr. Adams and M. Le Verrier, who, independently of each other, arrived at these wonderful results. Mr. Adams had determined the mass and apparent diameter of Neptune, with all the circumstances of its motion, eight months before M. Le Verrier had terminated his results, and had also pointed out the exact spot where the planet would be found ; but the English observers neglected to look for it till M. Leverrier made known his researches, and communicated its position to Dr. Galle, at Berlin, who found it the very first night he looked for it, and then it was evident that it would have been seen in the place Mr. Adams had assigned to it eight months before had it been looked for. So closely did the results of these two great mathematicians agree. Neptune has a diameter of 39,793 miles, consequently he is nearly 200 times larger than the earth, and may be seen with a telescope of moderate power. His motion is retrograde at present, and six times slower than that of the earth. At so great a distance from the sun it can only have the tooth part of the light and heat the earth receives; but having a satellite, the deficiency of light may in some measure be supplied. The prediction may now be transferred from Uranus to Neptune, whose perturbations may reveal the existence of a planet still further removed, which may for ever remain beyond the reach of telescopic vision--yet its mass, the form and position of its orbit, and all the circumstances of its motion may become known, and the limits of the solar system may still be extended hundreds of millions of miles. The mean distance of Neptune from the sun has subsequently proved to be only 2893 millions of miles, and the period of his revolution 166 years, so that Baron Bode's law, of the interval between the orbits of any two planets being twice as great as the inferior interval and half of the superior, fails in the case of Neptune, though it was useful on the first approximation to his motions; and since Bode's time it has led to the discovery of fiftyfive telescopic planets revolving between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, some by chance, others by a systematic search on the faith that these minute planets are fragments of a larger body that has exploded, because their distances from the sun are nearly the same; the lines of the nodes of some of their orbits terminate in the same points of the heavens, and the inclinations of their orbits are such as might have taken place from their mutual disturbances at the time of the explosion, and while yet they were near enough for their forms to affect their motions. The orbits of the more recently discovered asteroids show that this hypothesis is untenable. The tables of Mars, Venus, and even those of the sun, have been greatly improved, and still engage the attention of our Astronomer Royal, Mr. Airy, and other eminent astronomers. We are chiefly indebted to the German astronomers for tables of the four older telescopic planets, Vesta, Juno, Ceres, and Pallas ; the others have only been discovered since the year 1845. The determination of the path of a planet when disturbed by all the others, a problem which has employed the talents of the greatest astronomers, from Newton to the present day, is only successfully accomplished with regard to the older planets, which revolve in nearly circular orbits, but little inclined to the plane of the ecliptic. When the excentricity and inclination of the orbits are great, their analysis fails, because the series expressing the co-ordinates of the bodies become extremely complicated, and do not converge when applied to comets and the telescopic planets. This difficulty has been overcome by Sir John Lubbock, and other mathematicians, who have the honour of having completed the theory of planetary motion, which becomes every day of more importance, from the new planets that have been discovered, and also with regard to comets, many of which return to the sun at regular intervals, and from whose perturbations the masses of the planets will be more accurately determined, and the retarding influence of the ethereal medium better known. |