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Person: Lepaute, Nicole-Reine Etable de Labrière
Nicole-Reine Lepaute was a French noblewoman who helped Lalande with astronomical calculations.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Nicole-Reine met Jean-Andre Lepaute on this occasion and their friendship blossomed.
- Lalande quickly became a friend of Nicole-Reine and Jean-Andre Lepaute.
- He was sent to the Cape of Good Hope to make astronomical observations and, returning to Paris in 1753 after a very successful trip, he was elected to the Academy of Sciences.
- Jean-Andre Lepaute had designed a clock with a new type of escapement and Lalande was asked by the Academy to evaluate it for astronomical use.
- In June 1757 Lalande decided that he would like to attempt to calculate a precise date for the return of Halley's comet.
- It was known to have been seen in 1305, 1380, 1456, 1531, 1607 and 1682 and Halley, taking into account perturbations to the orbit caused by the gravitational effects of Jupiter, had predicted that the comet would return reaching perihelion in December 1758.
- Lalande approached Alexis Clairaut for help and Clairaut provided a basic programme of work requiring an extraordinary amount of computation.
- Lalande then asked Nicole-Reine Lepaute to assist him in the computations.
- On 14 November 1758 Clairaut reported to the Academy of Sciences that they predicted the comet would reach perihelion by mid-April 1759.
- The team had completed the calculations just in time for, on 25 December 1758, the comet was sighted.
- Clairaut published Théorie des comètes Ⓣ(Theory of comets) (Paris, 1760) describing how the calculations had been carried out.
- He listed those who had assisted in the computations but did not put Nicole-Reine Lepaute's name on the list.
- It has been claimed that this deliberate omission was to please his girlfriend Mademoiselle Goulier who was jealous of Lepaute.
- Whatever the reason, the omission caused a rift between Lalande and Clairaut, and the two men never again collaborated on an astronomical project.
- Lalande gave Nicole-Reine Lepaute the credit she deserved in his own publication; see the quote above.
- In 1759 Lalande was asked if he would take over the editorship of the astronomical almanac Connaissance des temps.
- He was editor from 1760 until 1776, and Nicole-Reine Lepaute assisted him in computing the tables in this annual publication of the Academy of Sciences.
- Although her contributions are thought to have been substantial, we do not have any precise details of which part of the work she undertook.
- The Ephémérides des mouvements célestes Ⓣ(Almanac of celestial movements) gave tables of the sun, the moon and planets covering a period of ten years.
- This may have been one of the memoirs which Lalande says that she wrote for the l'Académie de Béziers but these have not been found.
- Since she was elected a member of l'Académie de Béziers around this time it is likely that this information is correct.
- Other specific tasks carried out by Lepaute that are specified by Lalande include calculations for elements of the comet observed in 1762.
- She produced a chart giving the path of the eclipse across Europe which was published in the Jesuit journal the Mémoires de Trévoux in June 1762.
Born 5 January 1723, Paris, France. Died 6 December 1788, Saint-Cloud, France.
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive