MAA Writing Awards
Reading the Masters: Newton and the Birth of Celestial Mechanics
Year of Award: 1998
Publication Information: The American Mathematical Monthly, vol. 104, 1997, pp. 1-19
Summary: This paper provides a history of the discovery of the theorems that mark the beginning of "Newtonian celestial mechanics." The paper uses original sources to answer the two key questions of early celestial mechanics: (a) Every orbital motion subject to an inverse-square force lies on a conic having focus at the force center. (b) What force law maintains a conic motion orbiting about the focus?
About the Author: Bruce Pourciau was at Lawrence University at the time of publication.