A few people have been posting about seeing things near the sun lately. Back in the 1860s they were seeing them too. I came across this article in an
old newspaper that explains the discovery of the planet Vulcan. It was supposed to have been closer to the sun than Mercury. Some were pretty sure
they had found it, even giving all the statistics. Eventually it was decided that the sightings were not a planet but various comets, asteroids, sun
The newspaper article was digitized by computer so it contains a lot of mistakes, I have corrected the important ones but not all. I hope it is not
too hard to read. You can read the original scan here if it makes it easier.
Monday 31 March 1873 pg 3
To the Editor of the Bendigo Advertiser
THE PLANET VULCAN.
Sir,-Since writing my last letter a Captain Baker, of Goldsborough, has asserted that he wit- nessed the transit of Vulcan on the 21st ultimo. He saw
a number of what appeared sun-spot* in the morning. and among them was one which pre sented a peculiarity different from sun-spots generally, it ha
no shading, i.e., penumbra. in consequence of clouds ho was unable to observe from about noon till about five pm, at which latter time a break
occurred which enabled him to see tho peculiar spot referred to. It had then shifted its place considerably across tho solar disc; amd these are the
circumstances that made him positive that lie had witnessed the transit. But there is'nothing really hero to prove that the transit occurred.
Generally when tho sun's surface is much affected with spots there is a good deal of disturbance of the photosphere, and Mr. Ellery says that "
small round spots without penumbra were frequently cropping up."
Again, a Sun-spot will appear to shift its position, when at the same time it is only carried along by the rotatory motion of tho luminary, Five hours
would be a sufficient. time to notice such an apparent shifting. Besides, Vulcan, if such a body exist, would transit very rapidly; and, at the lowest
calculation of its velo- city, would pass completely across the solar disc in five hours, hence the necessity of the frequent observations on the
24th. Furthermore, no transit was observed at the Melbourne Observatory, although no ten minutes elapsed without a clear view of the sun ; and the
best instruments were there available with tho most efficiont observers to use them. It is possible that Captain Baker has been incorrectly reported
in the Melbourne papers, as I myseif have.
The Aye gave me the credit of having been successful ia observing the transit, while I merely directed attention to a peculiar dot, possibly Captain
Baker's, which appeared to pre- sent certain peculiarities, but which must have been an unusually sharp break ii. tho photosphere, or one of the 11
croppings-up" referred to by Mr. Ellery.
Although at first I thought there was a bare possibility of the dot being tho planet, yet on learning the result of the observations at the Mel-
bourne Observatory, I could of course entertain no idea that such was the c ise ; and this, I think, is plainly stated in my first letter to you on
the sub- ject. If Mr. Tibbut, of Windsor, had read thia letter iustcad of the notice of it which appeared in the Age, he would not have gouo to the
trouble of refuting my statements. There can be no doubt but that, if the transit at all occurred, it must have been observed at the Melbourne
Observatory, unless there was negligence on the part of the observers, and there is not the shadow of a suspicion that such was the case. I will now
proceed ty fulfil my . promise in giving an account of tho extraordinary means by which the planet was discovered, or supposed to be discovered. Some
of your readers will remember how the farthest away of all the planets, Neptune, was discovered by calculations deduced from c ertain
perturbations of Uranus. This way one of tin; grandest of astro nomical achievements. To a distinguished French man, M. Lo Verrier, and a no less
distinguished Englishman, Mr, Adams, this discovery was due.
In a somowhat similar way the former gentleman, after a laborious examination of tho theory of tho orbit, of Mercury, and tho discovery of an error
in tho perihelion motion of that body, predicated one of two things - either that tho mass of Venus, tho next planet had beenunderestimated to at
least a tenth part, or that there existed a new planet between Mercury ami the Sun. As soon as this was made known to the scientific world, a
hitherto obscure French physician, namfed Lescarhault, came to the front. Ho said he had observed the passage of an object the sun's disc, which he
thought might be a new planet, but had abstained from giving publicity to it until he confirmed his impro?? by other observations. Lo Verrior
visited him, main taining at first a strict incognito, and satisfied him self that tho observations were reliable, not with standing" that the
instruments were imperfect and the little observatory not in tho best possible condition From those observations Lo Verrior calculated that tho new
planet, since called Vulcan, had a mean distance from tho sun a little more than a third of that of Mercury, or About 13,082,000 miles; and that a
revolution in it's orbit is completed in 19 days 17 hours, giving about 18 revolutions every year, and of curse frequent opportunities for observing
it. Although repeatedly watched for tho new planet was not again sightcd till the 20th March, 1862, by Mr. Lummis of Manchester, who observed it for
about '20 minutes, and, so that 'there should bo no mistake, he directed a friend's attention to it.
The spot which they saw had a clearly defined circular form, and was passing across the* tolar disc with a rapid proper motion. Its apparent diameter
was calculated at about 7'', and during the 20 minutes ot observation it passed over 12 minutes of arc. This latter however was afterwards corrected
by Mr. Hind, to whom the circumstances were communicated to 6 minutes of arc. From tho observations of Mr Lummis, other calculations were made as .to
the mean distance from the sun and time of revolution of tho new planet, and these, in one instance especially, aro found to tally remarkably with