Lot #8024
Carl Friedrich Gauss Autograph Manuscript on Asteroid Orbit

The prince of mathematicians, Carl Friedrich Gauss, tracks the orbit of the asteroid Juno in a rare and important manuscript integral to his life and mind

Estimate: $30000+

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The prince of mathematicians, Carl Friedrich Gauss, tracks the orbit of the asteroid Juno in a rare and important manuscript integral to his life and mind

German mathematician and physical scientist (1777-1855) who contributed significantly to many fields, including geometry and astronomy; he is often referred to as the 'prince of mathematicians' or 'the greatest mathematician since antiquity.' Handwritten manuscript by Carl Friedrich Gauss as director of the astronomical observatory at Gottingen, one page, 4 x 6.5, July-August 1808. Under the heading "Neueste Elemente der Juno [Latest Elements of Juno]," Gauss tracks the orbit of the asteroid Juno from July 30-August 5, 1808, as part of his official work at the Gottingen observatory. This appears to be his official recording of the newest statistical data for Juno; data identical or nearly-identical to the present was officially published by the observatory in 1808 in a work authored by Gauss (“Juno Element VIII,” reprinted in Gauss’ Werke, vol. 6, p. 306). This present document was written just one year after Gauss’ appointment to the directorship. Annotated along the top edge in another hand, "Written by Professor C. F. Gauss at Gottingen." Affixed by its top edge to a larger sheet and in fine condition. A very rare and important manuscript integral to Gauss' life and mind.

Gauss had lifelong interest in astronomy, authoring several important mathematical works on the subject, and serving in his professional life as the director of the Gottingen Observatory for almost 50 years. As an astronomer, Gauss is best known for determining the orbits of the first minor planets (i.e. asteroids) from a scarce number of their observations and calculating their perturbations. Gauss in fact first came to international fame through his 1801 calculation of the orbit of the asteroid Ceres, the first asteroid ever discovered.

Gauss’ work with asteroids resulted in the introduction of the 'Gaussian gravitational constant' and ultimately led to the publication in 1809 of Gauss’ major astronomical work Theoria motus corporum coelestium. His 1801 work with Ceres resulted in Gauss devising an approximative least-square method to determine Ceres’ orbit, a method of calculation which subsequently became the standard means of preliminary orbit determination. His work with the asteroid Juno (discovered in 1804) resulted in Gauss inventing a new method of trigonometric interpolation very closely related to, and predating, the 1807 discovery of the 'Fourier transform.' (Gauss’ invention is sometimes said to be a discrete version of the 'Fast Fourier Transform.') This Juno-inspired mathematical method is articulated in Gauss’ Theoria Interpolationis Methodo Nova Tractata, composed in 1804 but published posthumously.

Gauss’ applied-mathematical work in astronomy led to his appointment as the director of the Gottingen Observatory in 1807, a position he proudly held for the rest of his life.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Remarkable Rarities
  • Dates: August 24 - September 25