Today in history... Galileo is the first to see Neptune

Galileo Galilei has many achievements to his name; unfortunately, discovering Neptune is not one of them.

The astronomer's illustrations show that he first spotted Neptune - and was the first person ever to do so - on December 28, 1612, then again on January 27 1613.

However, due to Neptune's close proximity to Jupiter in the night sky, Galileo mistook the planet for a fixed star.

The actual official discovery of Neptune isn't dated until September 23, 1846. Ironically, considering Galileo's error, it was the first planet found by mathematical prediction, rather than observation.

After observing unexpected changes in the orbit of Uranus, French astronomer Alexis Bouvard deduced that they must have been caused by an unknown orbiting planet.

The planet Neptune, discovered in 1846
The planet Neptune, properly discovered in 1846

German astronomer Johann Galle subsequently observed Neptune, with its location pinpointed by the French celestial mathematician Urbain Le Verrier. All three men were credited with Neptune's discovery.

Despite his 'near miss', Galileo remains - according to great mind Steven Hawking - "perhaps more than any other single person... responsible for the birth of modern science."

Earlier this month (on December 11) his first-ever telescope observations sold for $122,000 at Sotheby's.

First published in Venice, on March 12 1610, it contains Galileo's observations of the Milky Way, its nebulae composed of stars, the moons of Jupiter, and the irregular surface of the Moon.

Due to limited expense devoted to the Frankfurt first edition, Galileo's observations were represented by inaccurate woodcuts, rather than his usual careful lunar engravings - the likes of which revealed to historians that he was actually the first to see Neptune, more than four centuries before Bouvard, Galle and Le Verrier.


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