View Full Version : Anomalous advance of the perihelion of Mercury - first GR publication?

2012-Feb-26, 10:31 PM
What is the first published predicted/estimated anomalous advance of the perihelion of Mercury, derived from GR?

I guess it would be by Einstein, around the time he published GR for the first time, but I'm not 100% sure.

Of course, estimates of that, based on observations, stretch back, what, to the 1850s?

2012-Feb-26, 11:59 PM
Yes, observations of the precession go back into the 1800s. This paper by Asaph Hall published in 1900 mentions the observations:


Hmmm. This pushes the observation back to 1891:


Einstein's first paper which explains the precession via GR may have been the paper referred to here, published in 1915:


The ADS is your friend for searches like this:


2012-Feb-27, 12:02 AM

2012-Feb-27, 04:10 AM
Pais (p.253) verifies that that paper on page 831 of PAW was the first, and mentions Le Verrier's Sep. 12, 1859 submission to the Academy of Sciences in Paris describing the first evidence of an anomaly in Mecury's orbit.

2012-Feb-27, 01:15 PM
Those who read French may be interested in LeVerrier's paper -- start here and click on "read next page" to see the whole thing.


I scanned the paper -- which is around 200 pages long -- and didn't see any obvious references to the anomalous change in the perihelion position, but maybe someone with sharper eyes and better reading skills will do so.

2012-Feb-27, 02:33 PM
Since I cannot read French, I cannot say one way or the other what is in that paper, though I do see clear references to Mercury and the Sun. Please see the Wiki summary here.


As always, Wiki should not be your sole source, but I have a lot of confidence in their scientific presentations for the most part. This one reports that LeVerrier knew that Mercury's perihelion advance could not be accurately explained by a Newtonian calculation of the perturbations of the known planets, and that the hypothetical Vulcan could account for the discrepancy. That is consistent with everything I have read about this issue all my life. With general relativity, the need for Vulcan went away.

2012-Feb-27, 02:34 PM
OK, looking at that mention a little closer, it says he submitted the text of a letter to Hervé Faye, to the journal, probably after that article. The list of references gives C. R. Ac. Sci. Paris 49 379 (1859), so it's later in the volume.

ETA: Pais also says Le Verrier's calculation of the anomalous perihelion advance was 38 seconds per century

2012-Feb-27, 04:10 PM
In A Textbook of General Astronomy (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/37275) by Young (chapter 14), from 1888, mentioned that Leverrier discovered the anomoly in 1859, and discusses the theories:

... so far as known [the anomoly] could be explained only by the attraction of a planet, or ring of small planets, revolving inside this orbit nearly in its plane, with a mass about half as great as that of Mercury itself.

We say " so far as known," because an alternative hypothesis has been proposed, viz., that the law of gravitation, though strictly true for bodies at rest is not absolutely so for bodies in motion; that when bodies are moving towards each other the attraction is less by a minute fraction than if they were at rest. The hypothesis is known as the electrodynamic theory of gravitation, but has at present [ 1888] very little to support it. If, however, it were true, then the peculiar motion of the apsides of Mercury's orbit would be a necessary consequence.

Subsequent investigations by a number of mathematicians have fully confirmed Leverrier's results; Mercury's orbit is beyond question affected as it would be if there were an intra-Mercurial planet, or a number of them.

Young then goes on to describe the hypothetical planet Vulcan and notes that it almost certainly doesn't exist because of the numerous transits that should have been observed, while acknowledging that the theory (Newtonian gravitation) requires it to exist. I find it interesting that a modification of the law of gravitation is considered, even though the proposed modified gravitational law was completely wrong. It is one of many places in this book where he discusss how the known laws of physics were known to be deficient and is forced to conclude the discussion with conjectures. Another area with similar deficiencies was the discussion about the source of the Sun's energy. It is interesting that Einstein answered both (the energy question with his SR theory, and the Mercury anomoly with his GR theory).

2012-Feb-27, 11:17 PM
The hypothesis is known as the electrodynamic theory of gravitation, but has at present [ 1888] very little to support it.

Wow. Speaking of potential prior art with respect to some of the ideas posted in the ATM forum...