French astronomer who predicted the existence and position of the planet
Neptune, discovered in 1846.
The possibility that another planet might exist beyond Uranus, influencing
its orbit, had already been suggested. Leverrier calculated the orbit
and apparent diameter of the hypothetical planet, and wrote to a number
of observatories, asking them to test his prediction of its position.
Johann Galle at the Berlin Observatory found it immediately, within
1° of Leverrier's coordinates.
Unbeknown to Leverrier, English astronomer John Couch Adams had carried
out virtually identical calculations a year earlier, but had failed
to persuade anyone to act on them.
Leverrier was born in St Lô, Normandy, and studied in Paris at
the Ecole Polytechnique, joining the staff 1837. He became professor
1847, and in 1849 a chair of celestial mechanics was established for
him at the Sorbonne. He was politically active in the revolutions of
1848, serving as a member of the legislative assembly in 1849 and as
senator in 1852. In 1854 he became director of the Paris Observatory.
After his discovery of Neptune, Leverrier compile a comprehensive analysis
of the masses and orbits of the planets of the Solar System. This was
published after his death, in the Annals of the Paris Observatory.
Leverrier was also instrumental in the establishment of a meteorological
network across continental Europe.