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Johann Bode

January 19, 2022

Uranus was very good to Johann Bode. The planet made him famous, earned him a key job, and gave him a spot in history as the man who named the planet.

Bode was born 275 years ago today, in present-day Germany. He suffered eye problems from childhood onward, so he couldn’t study the universe through a telescope. He could study it with pen and paper, though. He excelled at math, and was especially good at calculating orbits.

For a while, it looked like he was good at forecasting orbits as well. He fleshed out an idea proposed by Johann Titius. It said that the distances of the planets from the Sun followed a simple formula. At the time, it left a gap between Mars and Jupiter, and there was nothing beyond Saturn, the farthest known planet.

When Uranus was discovered, though, it fit the formula. So the Titius-Bode Law, or just Bode’s Law, gained wide acceptance. And Bode added to his fame by using old observations of Uranus — made before anyone knew they were looking at a planet — to calculate its orbit. The combination helped earn Bode the job as director of Berlin Observatory.

William Herschel, who discovered Uranus, proposed naming it for King George III of England. But Bode proposed Uranus, the father of Saturn. Eventually, it won out.

But Bode’s Law did not. When Neptune was discovered, it didn’t fit the formula at all. So Bode’s Law faded. Bode himself, though, is still remembered for his many contributions to astronomy.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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