The story of a planet that inspired Star Trek, discovered from Eure-et-Loir. Eurelian Chronicles # 44

Professor, historian, author, Alain Denizet digs out anecdotes or local stories that are often a reflection of a national history.
Professor, historian, author, Alain Denizet digs out anecdotes or local stories that are often a reflection of a national history. (© Laurent Rebours)

Find on the Actu Chartres, every Sunday, a Eurelian history chronicle and stories suggested by Alain Denizet. Professor, historian, author from Eure-et-Loir, he has been collecting all his articles on his website for years.

From the Orgères-en-Beauce Observatory, the discovery of Vulcan, a new planet!

Discovery of Neptune by Le Verrier, Caricature of Cham, L'Illustration, November 7, 1846.
Discovery of Neptune by Le Verrier, Caricature of Cham, L’Illustration, November 7, 1846. (© DR)

An anomaly in Mercury’s revolution?

Leading scientist, director of the Paris Observatory and discoverer of the planet Neptune [1] in 1846, Urban le Verrier wondered March 1859 about the anomalies of Mercury’s revolution around the Sun.

According to him, an unknown planet or a series of asteroids inserted between the two stars could be the cause of these manifestations.

It’s from an amateur, doctor in Orgères-en-Beauce born in Châteaudun August 14, 1814, came the solution to the riddle.

“Eureka, I found”

Dr. Lescarbault.  Source: https://www.echosciences-centre-valdeloire.fr/evenements/le-monde-merveilleux-d-edmond-lescarbault
Dr. Lescarbault. Source: https://www.echosciences-centre-valdeloire.fr/evenements/le-monde-merveilleux-d-edmond-lescarbault (© DR)

Edmond Lescarbaulthad been passionate about “celestial phenomena” since childhood.

He had installed in his property an observatoryequipped with a rotating dome and with its telescope, between two consultations, it scanned the sky.

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that March 26, 1859after 3 hours 59 minutes and 46 seconds – Orgères time – with his eye on the eyepiece, he saw “a small black dot on the sun’s disk that stood out against the luminous background and moved in a straight line … At 5 hours 16 minutes and 55 seconds, it crosses the edge of the sun [2] “.

Vulcan, the new planet’s solar system!

Postcards in the early 20th century.  Dr. Lescarbaults Observatory.
Postcards in the early 20th century. Dr. Lescarbaults Observatory. (© DR)

In other words, the doctor from Orgères-en-Beauce was the first to observe transit of a new planet in front of the shining star.

He cautiously waited until December 22, 1859, to alert Urbain Le Verrier per. mail.

On several pages, filled with numbers and calculations, he explains his method, his observations, his material, and his revolutionary conclusion without forgetting to flatter the scientist whose hypothesis he confirms.

I am convinced that this planet is the one whose existence you made known a few months ago by this wonderful force of your calculations, which in 1846 made you recognize the conditions of Neptune’s existence.

Edmond LescarbaultDoctor from Orgères-en-Beauce, amateur astronomer

Stick to fast after receiving another letter from Lescarbault on the 30th. Le Verrier rushes to Orgères.

The planet Vulcan, the planet closest to the sun.  Source: Lit.  by E. Jones & GW Newman — Library of Congress.
The planet Vulcan, the planet closest to the sun. Source: Lit. by E. Jones & GW Newman — Library of Congress.

Next day early in the morning. He discovers, amazed, the provisional means by which the amateur astronomer works.

Its lens, 10 centimeters wide and 1.5 meters long, equipped with an eyepiece with 150 times magnification, rests on a DIY stand.

Like a chronometer it has a minute and like a pendulum that beats the second, a simple silk thread that supports an ivory ball.

He notes his observations regarding paper scraps or chalk on spruce sheets which he then planes to make new notations. All this without counting the inconveniences caused by the customers that make him go down from the terrace of his observatory to his office …

According to rumors negotiated condescendingly by the Parisian press, the famous Le Verrier would have bullied the amateur astronomer before asking the priest and the neighbors about his impeccable reputation.

Lescarbault knighted by Le verrier

But three days later, on January 2, 1860, he forgot his prejudices, and Le Verrier was at the Academy of Sciences.

Under the charm of the discovery that accredits his calculations, he praises the obscure country doctor:

We found in M. Lescarbault a man who had long been devoted to the study of the sciences, surrounded by apparatus of every kind. He gave us careful explanations of his work … I am fully convinced that the detailed observation he made must be accepted by science.

Urban Le VerrierScientist, director of the Paris Observatory, inventor of Vulcain

Le Verrier even announces the appearance of the newcomer – baptized Vulcan In March or April 1860 and calculates that its orbit around the sun would be 19 days …

… And rewarded by the Nation and the department

    Dr.  Lescarbault became a knight of the Legion of Honor.  Base Lonore, reference .LH // 1612/33
Dr. Lescarbault became a knight of the Legion of Honor. Base Lonore, reference .LH // 1612/33 (© DR)

In the process, he obtained for the Lescarbault Legion of Honor on January 25, 1860.

Its discovery is so much the more meritorious because, note The constitutionalshe comes from one small locality where this physician was deprived of this intellectual community which excites and fertilizes the thought ”.

Grateful for this amateur who recreates color for his country, the the Council of Ministers of Eure-et-Loir grants him 1500 francs. Enough to improve the working conditions of this atypical researcher.

Lescarbault, however, is controversial.

Jokes joker about a confusion with birds. More seriously, in century and in Charivari [3]sad spirits point out that this famous March 26, Vulcan’s passage escaped the agents from the Paris Observatory, but otherwise equipped.

Le Verrier readily rejected the argument, pointing out that the Beauceron sky was clear, unlike Paris. Elementary.

Vulcan, celestial mirage …

The story of a planet that inspired Star Trek, discovered from Eure-et-Loir.  Eurelian Chronicles # 44
The glory of Vulcan. DC Fontana. Star Trek, original series, 1989. (© DR)

Astronomers around the world searched in vain for years for years.

No one saw Vulcan again before one new false alarm in 1876 from a Swiss scholar [4]. We had to face the facts: the planet Vulcan did not exist.

As for the “anomalies” of Mercury’s motion, they were explained in 1916 by Albert Einstein thanks to the theory of general relativity.

Meanwhile, Dr. Lescarbault was dead, forgotten, and penniless on April 6, 1894, in Orgères-en-Beauce.

However, Vulcan survived him in science fiction works such as Vulcan’s workshop (1932) and In the center of gravity (1936).

The known star trek series used its name but for a planet outside the solar system. That Dr. Lescarbault’s observatory would have been too modest to detect …

[1] Thanks to his calculations on the anomalies of movement of Neptune. It was the German Galle who first observed the new planet.
[2] Excerpt from the letter from Lescarbault addressed to Leverrier in the report of the Academy of Sciences, January 2, 1860, pp. 40-45.
[3] Le Siècle, March 2, 1876; le Charivari, May 19, 1860. Chronicle of J. Denizet …
[4] Reminder August 31, 1876.

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