Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Origin of the Discrepancy

At the beginning of the 20th century, many astronomers speculated about the existence of a planet beyond Neptune. Neptune had been discovered via calculations of the mathematicians John Couch Adams and Urbain Le Verrier to explain discrepancies between the calculated and observed orbits of Uranus, Saturn and Jupiter.

After the discovery of Neptune, however, there still were some slight discrepancies in those orbits and also in the orbit of Neptune itself. These were taken to indicate the existence of yet another planet orbiting beyond Neptune.

In 1905, Percival Lowell, a wealthy Bostonian who had founded the Lowel Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona in 1894, started an extensive project in search of a possible ninth planet, which he termed "Planet X". He hope in tracking down Planet X was to establish his scientific credibility, which had been dented by his widely derided belief that channel-like features visible on the surface of Mars were in fact canals constructed by an intelligent civilization. He performed 2 searches for it without success, the first ending in 1909, and after revising his prediction for where it should be found, the second from 1913 to 1915, after which Lowell published his mathematical hypothesis of the parameters for Planet X. Ironically, at his observatory that year, 2 faint images of Pluto were recorded, but were not recognized at the time.

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