John Couch Adams

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About John Couch Adams

John Couch Adams FRS (5 June 1819 – 21 January 1892) was a British mathematician and astronomer. Adams was born in Laneast, near Launceston, Cornwall, and died in Cambridge. The Cornish name Couch is pronounced "cooch".

His most famous achievement was predicting the existence and position of Neptune, using only mathematics. The calculations were made to explain discrepancies with Uranus's orbit and the laws of Kepler and Newton. At the same time, but unknown to each other, the same calculations were made by Urbain Le Verrier. Le Verrier would assist Berlin Observatory astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle in locating the planet on 23 September 1846, which was found within 1° of its predicted location, a point in Aquarius. (There was, and to some extent still is, some controversy over the apportionment of credit for the discovery; see Discovery of Neptune.)

He was Lowndean Professor at the University of Cambridge for thirty-three years from 1859 to his death. He won the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1866. In 1884, he attended the International Meridian Conference as a delegate for Britain.

A crater on the Moon is jointly named after him, Walter Sydney Adams and Charles Hitchcock Adams. Neptune's outermost known ring and the asteroid 1996 Adams are also named after him. The Adams Prize, presented by the University of Cambridge, commemorates his prediction of the position of Neptune. His personal library is now in the care of Cambridge University Library.

Adams was born at Lidcot, a farm at Laneast, near Launceston, Cornwall, the eldest of seven children. His parents were Thomas Adams (1788–1859), a poor tenant farmer, and his wife, Tabitha Knill Grylls (1796–1866). The family were devout Wesleyans who enjoyed music and among John's brothers, Thomas became a missionary, George a farmer, and William Grylls Adams, professor of natural philosophy and astronomy at King's College London. Tabitha was a farmer's daughter but had received a rudimentary education from John Couch, her uncle, whose small library she had inherited. John was intrigued by the astronomy books from an early age.

John attended the Laneast village school where he acquired some Greek and algebra. From there, he went, at the age of twelve, to Devonport, where his mother's cousin, the Rev. John Couch Grylls, kept a private school. There he learned classics but was largely self-taught in mathematics, studying in the Library of Devonport Mechanics' Institute and reading Rees's Cyclopaedia and Samuel Vince's Fluxions. He observed Halley's comet in 1835 from Landulph and the following year started to make his own astronomical calculations, predictions and observations, engaging in private tutoring to finance his activities. In 1836, his mother inherited a small estate at Badharlick and his promise as a mathematician induced his parents to send him to the University of Cambridge.[2] In October 1839 he entered as a sizar at St John's College, graduating B.A. in 1843 as the senior wrangler and first Smith's prizeman of his year.

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John Couch Adams's Timeline

June 5, 1819
Laneast, Cornwall, England, United Kingdom
June 20, 1819
Mary Magdalene Wesleyan, Launceston
January 21, 1892
Age 72
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England, United Kingdom