© 2013

Le Verrier—Magnificent and Detestable Astronomer

  • Translated from the original French by Bernard Sheehan; Edited and with an introduction by Dr. William Sheehan, a neuroscientist and amateur astronomer who is also a research fellow of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona

  • Presents the life and work of the French astronomer Le Verrier who discovered the planet Neptune and became famous

  • Provides a comprehensive picture of astronomy in France and to some extent the whole world at the middle of the 19th century

  • Explains all important scientific points in simple terms for the non-specialist


Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Library book series (ASSL, volume 397)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xvi
  2. James Lequeux
    Pages 1-19
  3. James Lequeux
    Pages 21-53
  4. James Lequeux
    Pages 55-75
  5. James Lequeux
    Pages 77-125
  6. James Lequeux
    Pages 127-172
  7. James Lequeux
    Pages 173-207
  8. James Lequeux
    Pages 209-246
  9. James Lequeux
    Pages 247-266
  10. James Lequeux
    Pages 267-302
  11. James Lequeux
    Pages 303-319
  12. James Lequeux
    Pages E1-E1
  13. Back Matter
    Pages 321-337

About this book


Le Verrier was a superb scientist. His discovery of Neptune in 1846 made him the most famous astronomer of his time. He produced a complete theory of the motions of the planets which served as a basis for planetary ephemeris for a full century. Doing this, he discovered an anomaly in the motion of Mercury which later became the first proof of General Relativity. He also founded European meteorology. However his arrogance and bad temper created many enemies, and he was even fired from his position of Director of the Paris Observatory.


19th century astronomy French celestial mechanics Le Verrier astronomer Mercury anomaly discovery Neptune discovery Paris observatory director history of astronomy planet hunting techniques solar system history

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Paris ObservatoryParisFrance

About the authors

James Lequeux completed his PhD thesis in radioastronomy in 1962 and was an assistant, then associate, professor of physics and astronomy at Paris University until 1966. He was an Astronomer from 1966-1999 and an invited scientist at CalTech from 1968-1969. Dr. Lequeux was also the Director of the Marseilles Observatory from 1983-1988 and was Editor-in-Chief of the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics for 15 years. He retired in 1999 and then began work on the history of astronomy, a subject he presently writes about. Dr. Lequeux has published over 403 papers and four books, including The Interstellar Medium (Springer 2005).

Bibliographic information

Industry Sectors


From the book reviews:

“The principals are illustrated together with many instruments, documents and buildings, as a standalone collection it would be very useful to any student of 19th century science. … the book comes directly from French archives, making this the definitive English language biography of Le Verrier. It makes an indispensable addition to our knowledge of astronomy of that turbulent era. … It must find a place in any Library dedicated to the history of science.” (Brian Sheen, F.A.S. Newsletter, Issue 105, Spring, 2014)

“This English version casts a fresh light on Le Verrier – the astronomer who discovered the planet Neptune ‘at the end of his pen’ in September 1846. … This book is very readable and presents a fascinating story of conflict and discovery. Bernard and Bill Sheehan deserve thanks for bringing it to an anglophone readership.” (David Sellers, Journal for the history of Astronomy, Vol. 45, February, 2014)

“Lequeux’s detailed account of the professional life of one of France’s best-known 19th-Century astronomers is a work of extensive scholarship, and fills admirably a curious void in the literature on world astronomers of renown. … The book is extremely well written … . The book is as thorough a study as can be conceived, and should be in every library as a testament to Paris’s struggles with both pollution and people during its formative years on the world astronomical stage.” (Elizabeth Griffin, The Observatory, Vol. 133 (1237), December, 2013)

“French astronomer/historian Lequeux delves deeply into the life and work of Urbain Le Verrier (1811-77), from his early studies and mathematical interests through the discovery that made him famous, the prediction of the position of an unknown planet (later named Neptune). … Footnotes provide references and scientific explanations. … The translation and editing are excellent. Summing Up: Highly recommended. History of astronomy collections, upper-division undergraduates and above.” (M.-K. Hemenway, Choice, Vol. 51 (3), November, 2013)