ESRL Global Systems Division

The R. R. Newton Award for Scientific History has been voted to Steve Albers

Steve Albers proposed the fruitful idea of consulting historical satellite-search ms records of then-known planets when near geocentric conjunction with then-unknown planets, to find unwitting observations of the latter — an idea that led to Charles Kowal's world-famous 1980 find of Galileo's 1613 Neptune sightings. Kowal's first-ever first-person story behind this forever-unique discovery is a DIO exclusive: DIO 15.

Excerpt from DIO 15: The March 1979, issue of Sky and Telescope magazine contained an excellent article by Steve Albers, which listed mutual occultations of planets for the years 1557 to 2230. Among these occultations were two of Neptune by Jupiter, in January 1613, and September 1702. Aha! The telescope is in wide use by 1702, but who was watching Jupiter in 1613? Galileo, and no one else. Albers’ article gave me the raw material I needed to search for a pre-discovery observation of Neptune. [In his article, Albers specifically mentioned that his computed occultations could be used to find pre-discovery observations of planets. At the time, I thought this was obvious, but I was subsequently criticized for not giving him credit for that insight. I scrupulously gave him credit for his occultation calculations, but Sky and Telescope implied that I gave him no credit at all! Let me make it plain that my subsequent work would not have been possible without the work of Steve Albers.]

More information about the award ( )

DIO 15: Galileo's Observations of Neptune by Charles T. Kowal ( )