was thus, it might be said, afforded of the harmonious working of a single principle to the uttermost boundaries of the sun’s dominion.
These successes paved the way for the higher triumphs of Joseph Louis Lagrange and of Pierre Simon Laplace. The subject of the lunar librations was treated by Lagrange with great originality in an essay crowned by the Paris Lagrange. Academy of Sciences in 1764; and he filled up the lacunae in his theory of them in a memoir communicated to the Berlin Academy in 1780. He again won the prize of the Paris Academy in 1766 with an analytical discussion of the movements of Jupiter’s satellites (Miscellanea, Turin Acad. t. iv.); and in the same year expanded Euler’s adumbrated method of the variation of parameters into a highly effective engine of perturbational research. It was especially adapted to the tracing out of “secular inequalities,” or those depending upon changes in the orbital elements of the bodies affected by them, and hence progressing indefinitely with time; and by its means, accordingly, the mechanical stability of the solar system was splendidly demonstrated through the successive efforts of Lagrange and Laplace. The proper share of each in bringing about this memorable result is not easy to apportion, since they freely imparted and profited by one another’s advances and improvements; it need only be said that the fundamental proposition of the invariability of the planetary major axes laid down with restrictions by Laplace in 1773, was finally established by Lagrange in 1776; while Laplace in 1784 proved the subsistence of such a relation between the eccentricities of the planetary orbits on the one hand, and their inclinations on the other, that an increase of either element could, in any single case, proceed only to a very small extent. The system was thus shown, apart from unknown agencies of subversion, to be constructed for indefinite permanence. The prize of the Berlin Academy was, in 1780, adjudged to Lagrange for a treatise on the perturbations of comets, and he contributed to the Berlin Memoirs, 1781-1784, a set of five elaborate papers, embodying and unifying his perfected methods and their results.
The crowning trophies of gravitational astronomy in the 18th century were Laplace’s explanations of the “great inequality” of Jupiter and Saturn in 1784, and of the “secular acceleration” of the moon in 1787. Both irregularities Laplace. had been noted, a century earlier, by Edmund Halley; both had, since that time, vainly exercised the ingenuity of the ablest mathematicians; both now almost simultaneously yielded their secret to the same fortunate inquirer. Johann Heinrich Lambert pointed out in 1773 that the motion of Saturn, from being retarded, had become accelerated. A periodic character was thus indicated for the disturbance; and Laplace assigned its true cause in the near approach to commensurability in the periods of the two planets, the cycle of disturbance completing itself in about 900 (more accurately 929½) years. The lunar acceleration, too, obtains ultimate compensation, though only after a vastly protracted term of years. The discovery, just one hundred years after the publication of Newton’s Principia, of its dependence upon the slowly varying eccentricity of the earth’s orbit signalized the removal of the last conspicuous obstacle to admitting the unqualified validity of the law of gravitation. Laplace’s calculations, it is true, were inexact. An error, corrected by J. C. Adams in 1853, nearly doubled the value of the acceleration deducible from them; and served to conceal a discrepancy with observation which has since given occasion to much profound research (see Moon).
The Mécanique céleste, in which Laplace welded into a whole the items of knowledge accumulated by the labours of a century, has been termed the “Almagest of the 18th century” (Fourier). But imposing and complete though the monument appeared, it did not long hold possession of the field. Further developments ensued. The “method of least squares,” by which the most probable result can be educed from a body of observational data, was published by Adrien Marie Legendre in 1806, by Carl Friedrich Gauss in his Theoria Motus (1809), which described also a mode of calculating the orbit of a planet from three complete observations, afterwards turned to important account for the recapture of Ceres, the first discovered asteroid (see Planets, Minor). Researches into rotational movement were facilitated by S. D. Poisson’s application to them in 1809 of Lagrange’s theory of the variation of constants; Philippe de Pontécoulant successfully used in 1829, for the prediction of the impending return of Halley’s comet, a system of “mechanical quadratures” published by Lagrange in the Berlin Memoirs for 1778; and in his Théorie analytique du système du monde (1846) he modified and refined general theories of the lunar and planetary revolutions. P. A. Hansen in 1829 (Astr. Nach. Nos. 166-168, 179) left the beaten track by choosing time as the sole variable, the orbital elements remaining constant. A. L. Cauchy published in 1842-1845 a method similarly conceived, though otherwise developed; and the scope of analysis in determining the movements of the heavenly bodies has since been perseveringly widened by the labours of Urbain J. J. Leverrier, J. C. Adams, S. Newcomb, G. W. Hill, E. W. Brown, H. Gyldén, Charles Delaunay, F. Tisserand, H. Poincaré and others too numerous to mention. Nor were these abstract investigations unaccompanied by concrete results. Sir George Airy detected in 1831 an inequality, periodic in 240 years, between Venus and the earth. Leverrier undertook in 1839, and concluded in 1876, the formidable task of revising all the planetary theories and constructing from them improved tables. Not less comprehensive has been the work carried out by Professor Newcomb of raising to a higher grade of perfection, and reducing to a uniform standard, all the theories and constants of the solar system. His inquiries afford the assurance of a nearly exact conformity among its members to strict gravitational law, only the moon and Mercury showing some slight, but so far unexplained, anomalies of movement. The discovery of Neptune in 1846 by Adams and Leverrier marked the first solution of the “inverse problem” of perturbations. That is to say, ascertained or ascertainable effects were made the starting-point instead of the goal of research.
Observational astronomy, meanwhile, was advancing to Descriptive and practical astronomy. some extent independently. The descriptive branch found its principle of development in the growing powers of the telescope, and had little to do with mathematical theory; which, on the contrary, was closely allied, by relations of mutual helpfulness, with practical astronomy, or “astrometry.” Meanwhile, the elementary requirement of making visual acquaintance with the stellar heavens was met, as regards the unknown southern skies, Bayer. when Johann Bayer published at Nuremberg in 1603 a celestial atlas depicting twelve new constellations formed from the rude observations of navigators across the line. In the same work, the current mode of star-nomenclature by the letters of the Greek alphabet made its appearance. Gassendi. On the 7th of November 1631 Pierre Gassendi watched at Paris the passage of Mercury across the sun. This was the first planetary transit observed. The next was that of Venus on the 24th of November (O.S.) 1639, of which Jeremiah Horrocks. Horrocks and William Crabtree were the sole spectators. The improvement of telescopes was prosecuted by Christiaan Huygens from 1655, and promptly led to his discoveries of the sixth Saturnian moon, of the true shape of the Saturnian appendages, Huygens. and of the multiple character of the “trapezium” of stars in the Orion nebula. William Gascoigne’s invention of the filar micrometer and of the adaptation of telescopes to graduated instruments remained submerged for a quarter of a century in consequence of Gascoigne. his untimely death at Marston Moor (1644). The latter combination had also been ineffectually proposed in 1634 by Jean Baptiste Morin (1583-1656); and both devices were recontrived at Paris about 1667, the micrometer by Adrien Auzout (d. 1691), telescopic sights (so-called) by Jean Picard (1620-1682), who simultaneously introduced the astronomical use of pendulum-clocks, constructed by Huygens eleven years previously. These improvements were ignored or rejected by Johann Hevelius of Danzig, the author of the last important Hevelius. star-catalogue based solely upon naked-eye determinations.