Polski
русский
Українська

19th-century mathematician claimed to have found another planet near the Sun: why and how it disappeared

Dmytro IvancheskulNews
Urbain Le Verrier believed that there is planet Vulcan next to the Sun, which distorts the orbit of Mercury

In the 19th century, the French mathematician and astronomer Urbain Le Verrier discovered that there must be a planet unknown to mankind near the Sun, which he named Vulcan. Its existence was believed for more than 70 years until it was "destroyed" by Albert Einstein.

IFL-Science tells about the fantastic discovery. The "discovery" of Vulcan was preceded by another mathematician, which, unlike the planet next to the Sun, turned out to be quite accurate.

In 1846, Le Verrier studied Uranus and found that it was moving in a somewhat unexpected way. It turned out that there was a discrepancy between the way Uranus was supposed to move according to Newtonian physics and the way its orbit actually was.

Le Verrier performed calculations and suggested that Uranus's orbit would be logical if there was another previously unknown planet nearby that was influencing it.

Since the mathematical calculations satisfied the scientist's curiosity, he did not bother to find the planet with a telescope but told about his theory. The German astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle became interested in it. In September 1846, he began research and discovered that there was indeed a celestial body within 1 degree of the point Le Verrier had mentioned. It turned out to be the planet Neptune.

A little later, Le Verrier began to study one of the most difficult planets in the solar system to observe, Mercury, which is the first planet from the Sun. Le Verrier's task was to build the orbit of Mercury using Newtonian physics.

It turned out that Mercury's orbit again did not fit into the laws of physics and, in principle, did not make any sense. Newtonian theory predicted that planets move in elliptical orbits around the Sun. Instead, observations showed that Mercury's orbit fluctuates more than could be explained by the gravity of other known planets.

Turning to logic, the scientist suggested that, as in the case of Uranus, Mercury was being influenced by another planet that was apparently even closer to the Sun.

He eventually named the planet after the Roman god of fire, Vulcan.

In 1859, the French physician and amateur astronomer Edmond Modeste Lescarbault reported that he had used Le Verrier's calculations and had indeed discovered Vulcan. He informed a mathematician about it and the latter calculated the orbit of Vulcan relative to the Sun. According to Le Verrier, the planet should have flown around the Sun two to four times a year.

Later, other scientists began to report that they had probably seen Vulcan. Some of them actually saw dark sunspots, while others were simply mistaken. Officially, no one but Lescarbault claimed to have seen the planet.

Nevertheless, the planet continued to be discussed for almost 70 years, and in 1879, newspapers even announced its passage by the Sun. Of course, Vulcan never appeared.

Perhaps the "discovered" planet would still be an amazing mystery today if not for Albert Einstein and his general theory of relativity, which simply "destroyed" Vulcan.

Einstein's theory was able to predict the orbit of Mercury without any additional planets. The theory assumes that massive objects (such as our Sun) exert a gravitational influence on other objects (all planets and other cosmic bodies) and the closer the object is, the more significant the influence it will experience.

Thus, the theory of relativity was able to explain the orbit of Mercury, and Vulcan simply ceased to exist.

Subscribe to OBOZREVATEL on Telegram and Viber to keep up with the latest news

Other News

Budget bread spread without mayonnaise in 5 minutes: what to add

Budget bread spread without mayonnaise in 5 minutes: what to add

A very satisfying and simple appetizer
Zalishchyky village: check out 'German Saarschleife' in the Ternopil region

Zalishchyky village: check out 'German Saarschleife' in the Ternopil region

What to see in the former Polish resort
We must never give our friends any reason to doubt America's resolve - Llyod Austin on aid for Ukraine

We must never give our friends any reason to doubt America's resolve - Llyod Austin on aid for Ukraine

Pentagon chief calls the law an important investment in America's future
First batches of US military aid may be delivered to Ukraine days after the law is signed - NYT

First batches of US military aid may be delivered to Ukraine days after the law is signed - NYT

It became known from which country it is likely to be sent