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The achievement of Newton's "theory of the moon's motion" of 1702

Kollerstrom, Nicholas; (1995) The achievement of Newton's "theory of the moon's motion" of 1702. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This study utilises computer programs to reconstruct the challenges which faced astronomers at the time of the founding of Britain's Royal Observatory. It focusses on the lunar theory articulated by Isaac Newton in 1702, showing how it was the precursor of what became embodied in the 1713 Principia as its lunar theory. Conceived as a kinematic mechanism, it has here been translated into trigonometric terms, and thence into machine-readable form. A computer replica of Newton's theory has thereby been composed and tested, and its accuracy for the first time assessed, resolving age-old controversies. The first British lunar theory, formed by Jeremiah Horrocks in the 1630s, was published by Flamsteed, and later modified and developed by Newton. As such it spread across Europe in the first half of the eighteenth century. It was later replaced by lunar theories derived from the Newtonian theory of gravity, which came to be called the 'Newtonian' theory, causing the theory actually promoted by Newton to be overlooked. Newton's theory had seven steps of equation as its distinctive feature, little appreciated by historians. No evidence remains that gravity theory, applied in a quantitative sense, assisted its composition. Computer replicas of the lunar theories used by Flamsteed and Halley have been constructed and tested, and Halley's use of the Saros cycle to correct errors in the method is re-evaluated. A survey of astronomy textbooks containing tables over the period 1650-1750 has been the context for assessing to what extent the 1702 Newtonian procedure was an improvement upon existing theories.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The achievement of Newton's "theory of the moon's motion" of 1702
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Philosophy, religion and theology; Social sciences; Newton; Theory of the moon's motion
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10105906
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