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John Couch Adams

John Couch Adams 1870s.jpg
Photo c. 1870
Born (1819-06-05)5 June 1819
Died 21 January 1892(1892-01-21) (aged 72)
Cambridge Observatory
Cambridgeshire, England
Nationality British
Awards Smith's Prize (1843)
Copley Medal (1848)
Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1866)
Scientific career
Fields Mathematics
Institutions University of St. Andrews
University of Cambridge
Academic advisors John Hymers

John Couch Adams (5 June 1819 – 21 January 1892) was a British mathematician and astronomer. He was born in Laneast, near Launceston, Cornwall, and died in Cambridge.

His most famous achievement was predicting the existence and position of Neptune, using only mathematics. The calculations were made to explain variations with Uranus's orbit and the laws of Kepler and Newton.

Adams was Lowndean Professor in the University of Cambridge from 1859 until 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 held at Cambridge University Library.

The Leonids

The Leonids

The great meteor shower of November 1866 turned his attention to the Leonids, whose probable path and period had already been discussed and predicted by Hubert Anson Newton in 1864.

Using a powerful and elaborate analysis, Adams established that this cluster of meteors, which belongs to the solar system, travels an elongated ellipse in 33.25 years, and is subject to definite chages from the larger planets, Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus. These results were published in 1867.

Some experts consider this Adams's most substantial achievement. His "definitive orbit" for the Leonids coincided with that of the comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle and therefore suggested the later widely accepted, close relationship between comets and meteors.


Grave of astronomer John Couch Adams - - 370564
Grave of astronomer John Couch Adams

Family and death

After a long illness, Adams died at Cambridge on 21 January 1892 and was buried near his home in St Giles Cemetery, now the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge. In 1863 he had married Miss Eliza Bruce (1827–1919), of Dublin, who survived him, and is buried with him. His wealth at death was £32,434 (£2.6 million at 2003 prices).


John Couch Adams by Sir Hubert von Herkomer
Portrait of John Couch Adams by Sir Hubert von Herkomer
  • Memorial in Westminster Abbey with a portrait medallion, by Albert Bruce-Joy
  • A bust, by Joy in the hall of St John's College, Cambridge
  • Another youthful bust belongs to the Royal Astronomical Society
  • Portrait by Hubert von Herkomer in Pembroke College
  • Portrait by Paul Raphael Montord in the combination room of St John's
  • A memorial tablet, with an inscription by Archbishop Benson, in Truro Cathedral
  • Passmore Edwards erected a public institute in his honour at Launceston, near his birthplace
  • Adams Nunatak, a nunatak on Neptune Glacier in Alexander Island in Antarctica, is named after him

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