The Gradual Acceptance of the Existence of the Secular Acceleration During the 1740s

  • John M. SteeleEmail author
Part of the Sources and Studies in the History of Mathematics and Physical Sciences book series (SHMP)


The 1740s saw a major shift in the way that solar, lunar, and planetary theories were formulated. Continental mathematicians applied the calculus as interpreted by Leibniz in an attempt to solve the three-body problem of the gravitation forces in the Earth–moon–sun system to compute the perturbations in the lunar orbit, and eventually extended this procedure to the planets. Celestial mechanics shifted from being an astronomical problem to a mathematical one, and the locus of its study moved from England to continental Europe and from astronomers to mathematicians. Consideration of the mechanics of the orbits of the bodies in the solar system led mathematicians such as Leonard Euler back to the question of whether the heavenly bodies were retarded in their motion by the æther. The secular accelerations of the sun, moon and planets therefore took on a new significance and by the end of the 1740s the existence of these accelerations was generally accepted, although the size of the accelerations remained unsolved. The decade began, however, with a challenge to Halley’s discovery of the lunar secular acceleration.


Lunar Orbit Total Solar Eclipse Lunar Eclipse Heavenly Body Secular Acceleration 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian StudiesBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA

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