*Theoretical Astronomy.*

Theoretical Astronomy is that branch of the science which, making use of the results of astronomical observations as they are supplied by the practical astronomer, investigates the motions of the heavenly bodies. In its most important features it is an offshoot of celestial mechanics, between which and theoretical astronomy no sharp dividing line can be drawn. While it is true that the one is concerned altogether with general theories, it is also true that these theories require developments and modifications to apply them to the numberless problems of astronomy, which we may place in either class.

*q.v.*), which is auxiliary to the prediction of the apparent motions of a planet, satellite or star. The computations involved in the process, while simple in some cases, are extremely complex in others. The orbit of a newly-discovered planet or comet may be computed from three complete observations by well-known methods in a single day. From the resulting elements of the orbit the positions of the body from day to day may be computed and tabulated in an ephemeris for the use of observers. But when definitive results as to the orbits are required, it is necessary to compute the perturbations produced by such of the major planets as have affected the motions of the body. With this complicated process is associated that of combining numerous observations with a view of obtaining the best definitive result. Speaking in a general way, we may say that computations pertaining to the orbital revolutions of double stars, as well as the bodies of our solar system, are to a greater or less extent of the classes we have described. The principal modification is that, up to the present time, stellar astronomy has not advanced so far that a computation of the perturbations in each case of a system of stars is either necessary or possible, except in exceptional cases.

*Celestial Mechanics.*

Celestial Mechanics is, strictly speaking, that branch of applied mathematics which, by deductive processes, derives the laws of motion of the heavenly bodies from their gravitation towards each other, or from the mutual action of the parts which form them. The science had its origin in the demonstration by Sir Isaac Newton that Kepler’s three laws of planetary motion, and the law of gravitation, in the case of two bodies, could be mutually derived from each other. A body can move round the sun in an elliptic orbit having the sun in its focus, and describing equal areas in equal times, only under the influence of a force directed towards the sun, and varying inversely as the square of the distance from it. Conversely, assuming this law of attraction, it can be shown that the planets will move according to Kepler’s laws.

Thus celestial mechanics may be said to have begun with Newton’s *Principia*. The development of the science by the successors of Newton, especially Laplace and Lagrange, may be classed among the most striking achievements of the human intellect. The precision with which the path of an eclipse is laid down years in advance cannot but imbue the minds of men with a high sense of the perfection reached by astronomical theories; and the discovery, by purely mathematical processes, of the changes which the orbits and motions of the planets are to undergo through future ages is more impressive the more fully one apprehends the nature of the problem. The purpose of the present article is to convey a general idea of the methods by which the results of celestial mechanics are reached, without entering into those technical details which can be followed only by a trained mathematician. It must be admitted that any intelligent comprehension of the subject requires at least a grasp of the fundamental conceptions of analytical geometry and the infinitesimal calculus, such as only one with some training in these subjects can be expected to have. This being assumed, the hope of the writer is that the exposition will afford the student an insight into the theory which may facilitate his orientation, and convey to the general reader with a certain amount of mathematical training a clear idea of the methods by which conclusions relating to it are drawn. The non-mathematical reader may possibly be able to gain some general idea, though vague, of the significance of the subject.

*xy*, we have only two co-ordinates to consider. Let us use the following notation:

*x, y*, the co-ordinates of the planet relative to the sun as the origin.

*M, m*, the masses of the attracting bodies, sun and planet.

*r*, the distance apart of the two bodies, or the radius vector of

*m*relative to

*M*. This last quantity is analytically defined by the equation—

*r*² = *x*² + *y*²

*t*, the time, reckoned from any epoch we choose.

*x*and

*y*, or the motion of

*m*relative to

*M*, are:—

= −

(1)

= −