Newcomb, Simon

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Newcomb, Simon

(no͞o`kəm, nyo͞o`–), 1835–1909, American astronomer, b. Nova Scotia, grad. Lawrence Scientific School, Harvard, 1858. Living in the United States from 1853, he was appointed (1857) a computer on the American Nautical Almanac and later (1877–97) was its director. He was professor of mathematics in the U.S. navy from 1861 until his retirement in 1897, professor of mathematics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins from 1884 to 1894, and for several years editor of the American Journal of Mathematics. Newcomb participated in several eclipse expeditions and in 1882 went to the Cape of Good Hope to observe the transit of Venus. The record of many of his researches was published in the Astronomical Papers of the American Ephemeris, a series that he established in 1879. His investigations and computations of the orbits of six planets resulted in his tables of the planetary system, which were almost universally adopted by the observatories of the world. Newcomb urged the use of a common system of constants and fundamental stars by astronomers of all nations. A subject to which he devoted many years of study was the theory of the moon's motion. From the formulas he established it was possible to construct accurate lunar tables. His writings include a valuable early paper, On the Secular Variations and Mutual Relations of the Orbits of the Asteroids (1860) and On the Motion of Hyperion (1891).


See his Reminiscences of an Astronomer (1903); study by L. M. Dunphy (1956).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Newcomb, Simon


Born Mar. 12, 1835, in Wallace, Nova Scotia; died July 11, 1909, in Washington, D.C. American astronomer.

Newcomb came to the USA in 1853. From 1861 to 1877 he was a professor of mathematics in the US Navy and an observational astronomer at the US Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. From 1877 to 1897 he was director of the American Nautical Almanac Office, which published the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac.

Newcomb was primarily involved in the study of the motion of the principal planets, the determination of astronomical constants, and the computation of tables of the exact positions of stars. He also studied the theory of lunar motion, the theory of the motion of planetary satellites, the theory of solar eclipses, and the problem of the origin of asteroids.


A Compendium of Spherical Astronomy. New York-London, 1906.
The Elements of the Four Inner Planets and the Fundamental Constants of Astronomy. Washington D.C, 1895.
Researches of the Motion of the Moon. Washington D.C, 1878.
In Russian translation:
Astronomiia dlia vsekh. Odessa, 1905.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Newcomb, Simon

(1835–1909) astronomer, mathematician; born in Wallace, Nova Scotia. Born to New England parents who had moved to Nova Scotia, he immigrated to America in his teens; eventually finding work at the office of the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac, then located at Harvard College, he took a degree from the college's Lawrence Scientific School (1858). Appointed a professor of mathematics by the U.S. Navy in 1861, he was assigned to the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.; he remained affiliated there until 1897; he also served as professor at Johns Hopkins University (1884–94, 1898–1900). Although he made telescopic observations, his major contributions came through his complex mathematical calculations; with these he effectively recalculated and corrected all the known positions and motions of the bodies of the solar system and the major celestial reference objects, a monumental accomplishment that was accepted throughout the world. He also did pioneer work in calculating the sun's parallax, and, with A. A. Michelson, determined the velocity of light. In addition to his scientific writing he published popular texts, Reminiscences of an Astronomer (1903), and three novels. He helped found and was first president of the American Astronomical Society (1899–1905) and was the recipient of many honors abroad as well as in America.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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