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March 10 , 2008

Le Verrier—Magnificent and Detestable Astronomer


Translated from the original French by Bernard Sheehan; Edited and with an introduction by Dr. William Sheehan, a neuroscientist and amateur astronomer who is also a research fellow of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona

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The novella Gambara is part of the Philosophical Studies section of Honore de Balzac's The Human Comedy. It follows a tumultuous relationship between Italian nobleman Andrea Marcosini and the beautiful, young Marianna. She happens to be married to a mercurial, much older composer, who some believe is a genius and others regard as an abject failure.

Le Verrier was a superb scientist. His discovery of Neptune in 1846 made him the most famous astronomer of his time. He produced a complete theory of the motions of the planets which served as a basis for planetary ephemeris for a full century. Doing this, he discovered an anomaly in the motion of Mercury which later became the first proof of General Relativity. He also founded European meteorology. However his arrogance and bad temper created many enemies, and he was even fired from his position of Director of the Paris Observatory.

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