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For the foreseeable future SHA meetings will be online, due to the Covid 19 health emergency. As these are organised, the details will be posted here.

The third online lecture was on  


Neptune: from grand discovery to a world revealed.

In revisiting the history of the discovery of Neptune and the people involved, Carolyn Kennett, Robert W. Smith  and Brian Sheen together talked about this fascination subject. The details of the talk are shown as advertised.

“Following an introduction by Carolyn Kennett, Robert Smith will talk about James Challis’s search from the Cambridge University Observatory for the postulated planet beyond Uranus erupted in debates and controversies in Britain and beyond once the planet had been telescopically discovered from Berlin.  There arose, in fact, an international furore that permanently damaged the Astronomer Royal’s reputation.  Why did the discovery of the planet matter so much to so many people? Why was the allocation of credit for the discovery the focus of so many arguments and negotiations?  

Exploring these key historical questions is revealing about both the nature of the astronomical and, more broadly, the scientific, enterprise in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century.  In the high-stakes fights over credit for what was widely seen as one of the most remarkable discoveries in nineteenth-century science, the actions of various “men of science” with different degrees of association with, and links to, Cambridge University, were viewed at the time as crucial.  However, the controversies also highlighted the fact that different individuals held very different conceptions of what constituted a true “discovery.”  Moreover, they also differed on how credit should be allocated for discoveries, on what counted as a publication, and even on how science should be organized and practiced.  The Neptune controversies embroiled men of science who often strongly criticised each other in public forums, as well as in august scientific publications, including those of the Royal Astronomical Society and the French Academy of Sciences.  Why all the fuss?  

Brian Sheen will then follow with a wide ranging overview concentrating on lesser known aspects of the saga”


A video recording of the Neptune Zoom talk can be viewed here via YouTube for a limited time period.