Recognition of a Cornish genius

Cornish mathematician and astronomer John Couch Adams was born into a poor farming family at Laneast, but had the gift of performing complex mathematics in his head. He was the first to recognise that something was causing irregularities in the orbit of Uranus and predicted the presence of an undiscovered planet beyond. To find its position accurately called for incredibly complex calculations, which he did in his head before ever writing them down.

Unknown to each other and at the same time, the French astronomer Le Verrier was also doing the very same calculations, both reaching precisely the same solution with astonishing accuracy. The astronomer Galle, using both men’s figures, found Neptune exactly where they said it would be.

The five rings of Neptune are named for the five astronomers whose work contributed the most to the discovery and study of the planet, and have the names: Galle, Le Verrier, Lassell, Arago and Adams.

Adams also has a lunar crater and an asteriod named after him. The University of Cambridge awards an annual Adams Prize.

When he died in 1892, Adams was worth an estimated 2.5 million pounds (at today’s rate). Not bad for a poor farmer’s son.

By Craig Weatherhill


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