Discovered on September 23, 1846, Neptune was the first planet found by mathematical prediction rather than by empirical observation. Unexpected changes in the orbit of Uranus led astronomers to deduce that its orbit was subject to gravitational perturbation by an unknown planet. Neptune was subsequently found within a degree of its predicted position, and its largest moon, Triton, was discovered shortly thereafter, though none of the planet's remaining 12 moons was located telescopically until the 20th century. Neptune has been visited by only one spacecraft, Voyager 2, which flew by the planet on August 25, 1989.
Galileo's drawings show that he first observed Neptune on December 28, 1612, and again on January 27, 1613. On both occasions, Galileo mistook Neptune for a fixed star when it appeared very close—in conjunction—to Jupiter in the night sky, hence, he is not credited with Neptune's discovery.
In 1821, Alexis Bouvard published astronomical tables of the orbit of Neptune's neighbor Uranus. Subsequent observations revealed substantial deviations from the tables, leading Bouvard to hypothesize that an unknown body was perturbing the orbit through gravitational interaction. In 1843, John Couch Adams calculated the orbit of a hypothesized eighth planet that would account for Uranus's motion.
In 1845–46, Urbain Le Verrier, independently of Adams, developed his own calculations but also experienced difficulties in stimulating any enthusiasm in his compatriots. In June, however, upon seeing Le Verrier's first published estimate of the planet's longitude and its similarity to Adams's estimate, Airy persuaded Cambridge Observatory director James Challis to search for the planet. Challis vainly scoured the sky throughout August and September.
Meantime, Le Verrier by letter urged Berlin Observatory astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle to search with the observatory's refractor. Heinrich d'Arrest, a student at the observatory, suggested to Galle that they cou...