The Final Synthesis: Jérôme Lalande

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


Dunthorne and Mayer had both firmly established the existence of the moon’s secular acceleration, but differed in their determination of its size. Furthermore, neither Dunthore nor Mayer had provided a fully justified term for the effect of the moon’s secular equation in their lunar tables: Dunthorne gave a detailed description of how he had derived the coefficient of the secular equation, but presented it as a correction to his existing lunar tables. Mayer, by contrast, had fully incorporated the moon’s secular acceleration into his lunar tables, but had not given a detailed explanation of how he had derived its size. Further confusion existed over whether the sun’s motion was also subject to a secular correction. Euler had reasoned that resistance to the motion of a heavenly body by the æther would cause such an acceleration in the Earth’s motion and had included a secular term in his solar tables, but Mayer claimed that the ancient observations provided no evidence for a solar equation. Such was the state of the subject when astronomy’s great opportunist, Jérôme Lalande, made a bid to have his name attached to the definitive solution to the problem. It was evident that determining whether the sun and moon were subject to a secular acceleration, and if so, what was its magnitude was going to become an important problem both for the construction of accurate astronomical tables—something that was gaining in importance because of the role of lunar distance measurements in determining geographical longitude—and in testing the ability of Newton’s gravitational theory to explain the motion of bodies in the solar system. Lalande’s paper on the secular equations, published in 1757, was successful in bringing the study of the size of the moon’s secular acceleration using historical records to an end for the next several decades. As I will show, however, Lalande was extremely lucky in this outcome as the arguments presented in his paper scarcely ­justify the faith placed in his result.


Solar Eclipse Secular Equation Winter Solstice Heavenly Body Eclipse Observation 
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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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