 
Summary: CHAPTER 3.4
Observatory mathematics in the nineteenth
century
David Aubin
The value of the service of an Assistant to the Observatory', the Astronomer
Royal George Biddell Airy wrote in 1861, `depends very materially on his
acquaintance with Observatory Mathematics'.1
ere is a rather strange ring to
this expression. One knows, of course, that mathematics has always been used
extensively in observatories. Ever since permanent astronomical stations were set
up in Europe during the Renaissance, observers have drawn on the most elabor
ate mathematical tools available to them to correct the observational data they
produced and to come up with theoretical predictions to which it could be com
pared. Up until the nineteenth century, astronomers played a central role in the
development of many parts of mathematics. Indeed, together with geometry and
arithmetic, astronomy had always been considered as one of the main branches
of mathematics.
Still, in what sense can one talk of `observatory mathematics'? Should one
understand the expression as designating the subset of mathematics that was
especially relevant to the scienti c activities carried out inside observatories? Or
