100 Days Until Totality! 59 Days Left – The Last Great Wyoming Eclipse Finale: A New Planet?

During the Last Great Wyoming Eclipse, James Craig Watson made claims to a fantastic discovery that rose him to immediate fortune, fame, and . . . a new planet?

James Craig Watson
Bentley Historical Library

In 1859, it had been discovered that there were discrepancies in Mercury’s orbit. It was noted that Mercury’s point of perihelion, or closest approach to the sun in orbit, moved to a different location every century or so. Watson was convinced that the phenomenon was due to another planet orbiting between the sun and Mercury. He was determined to find it during the Wyoming Eclipse of 1878.

Watson traveled alongside Edison in the Draper Party to make his way out to the west to discover the fabled, intramercurial planet Vulcan. Upon the moment of totality, he scanned the sky for any out of place objects in the dark of the shadow. Amazingly, he located an object he said had an odd “muddy light” coming from the source, and was sure it was Vulcan. When Watson reported his findings, he mostly received praise and acknowledgment. However, some folks were skeptical. That was until Professor Lewis Swift made the claim that he too had seen Vulcan during the same eclipse. Watson had only seen it first by a marginal two minutes.

An artist’s depiction of Mercury’s precessed orbit

By this time the entire scientific community was convinced that planet Vulcan existed and explained Mercury’s obscure orbit. Little did they know, their findings would fail and the concept of Vulcan would dissipate only a few decades later by Albert Einstein. Coming soon! Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the destruction of a proposed planet.

Sources here and here.

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