Page:A short history of astronomy(1898).djvu/282

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
222
[Ch. IX.
A Short History of Astronomy

distance between the two bodies. Kepler's laws of planetary motion were in fact shewn to lead necessarily to the conclusions that the sun exerts on a planet an attraction inversely proportional to the square of the distance of the planet from the sun, and that such an attraction affords a sufficient explanation of the motion of the planet.

Once more, however, Newton published nothing and "threw his calculations by, being upon other studies."

176. Nearly five years later the matter was again brought to his notice, on this occasion by Edmund Halley (chapter x., §§ 199–205), whose friendship played henceforward an important part in Newton's life, and whose unselfish devotion to the great astronomer forms a pleasant contrast to the quarrels and jealousies prevalent at that time between so many scientific men. Halley, not knowing of Newton's work in 1666, rediscovered, early in 1684, the law of the inverse square, as a consequence of Kepler's Third Law, and shortly afterwards discussed with Wren and Hooke what was the curve in which a body would move if acted on by an attraction varying according to this law; but none of them could answer the question.[1] Later in the year Halley visited Newton at Cambridge and learnt from him the answer. Newton had, characteristically enough, lost his previous calculation, but was able to work it out again and sent it to Halley a few months afterwards. This time fortunately his attention was not diverted to other topics; he worked out at once a number of other problems of motion, and devoted his usual autumn course of University lectures to the subject. Perhaps the most interesting of the new results was that Kepler's Third Law, from which the law of the inverse square had been deduced in 1666, only on the supposition that the planets moved in circles, was equally consistent with Newton's law when the paths of the planets were taken to be ellipses.

177. At the end of the year 1684 Halley went to Cambridge again and urged Newton to publish his results. In accordance with this request Newton wrote out, and sent

  1. It is interesting to read that Wren offered a prize of 40s. to whichever of the other two should solve this the central problem of the solar system.