Ernest William Brown

Ernest William Brown


Date of Birth
November 29, 1866
Date of Death
July 22, 1938

Ernest W. Brown was born in England and educated at Cambridge University, where he studied under celestial mechanician George H. Darwin. He taught mathematics from 1891 to 1907 at Haverford College and from 1907 to 1932 at Yale University. Starting with refinements of George W. Hill’s work, Brown devoted his career to the theory of the Moon’s motion and constructing accurate lunar tables. His theory took account of “the gravitational action of every particle of matter which can have a sensible effect on the Moon’s motion,” some 1500 terms. He then determined the numerical values of the constants by analyzing 150 years of Greenwich observations, and, with the assistance of Henry B. Hedrick and punched card machines, computed tables accurate to 0.01 arcsec. He showed that some small discrepancies in the apparent motion of the Moon are actually due to fluctuations in the Earth’s rotation rate. He also worked on orbits of Trojan asteroids, a satellite of Jupiter, and trinary star systems.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Hodghead, Beverly L., PASP 32, 85-92 (1920).

Other awards

French Academy of Sciences, Pontécoulant Prize, 1910.
National Academy of Sciences, James Craig Watson Medal, 1936, presented by A.O. LeuschnerScience May 7, 1937.
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1907, presented by W.H. Maw, MNRAS 67, 300-13 (1907).
Royal Society, Royal Medal, 1914.

Some offices held

American Astronomical Society, President, 1928-31.
American Mathematical Society, President, 1915-16.

Biographical materials

Archibald, Raymond Clare, Semicentennial History of the American Mathematical Society, 1888–1938 (American Mathematical Society, 1938), 173-83 [includes an extensive list of Brown’s publications].
O’Connor, J.J. & E.F Robertson, The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive
Schlesinger, Frank & Dirk BrouwerBiographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Science 21, 243-73 (1941).
Tenn, Joseph S., “Ernest W. Brown: The Fifteenth Bruce Medalist,” Mercury 21, 6, 194 (1992).
Warner, Deborah Jean, Dictionary of Scientific Biography 2, 516.


Barney, Ida, JRASC 32, 410-12 (1938).
Brouwer, DirkMNRAS 99, 300-07 (1939).
Crawford, R.T., PASP 50, 257-61 (1938).
Darwin, C.G., Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society (London) 3, 18-22 (1941).
Eckert, W.J., Popular Astronomy 47, 63-66 (1939).
Schlesinger, FrankAp.J. 89, 152-55 (1939).
D[yson], F.W.Observatory 62, 21-23 (1939).
More obituaries

Named after him

Lunar crater Brown
Minor Planet #1643 Brown


Papers, etc.

Some of Brown's papers are at Yale Observatory Archive. See also the records of the Department of Astronomy at Yale.

Other References: Historical

Brasch, F.E., ed., Sir Isaac Newton, A Bicentenary Evaluation of His Work (Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore, 1928) includes chapter by Brown on “Developments following from Newton’s Work”.

Brouwer, Dirk, “The Motions of the Outer Planets,” MNRAS 115, 221 (1955). [Brouwer’s Darwin lecture]

Brown, E.W., “The Problem of the Moon’s Motion,” PASP 32, 93-104 (1920).

Comrie, L.J., “The Application of the Hollerith Tabulating Machine to Brown’s Tables of the Moon,” MNRAS 92, 694-707 (1932).

Darwin, G.H., et al, Scientific Papers (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1907-16). [Volume 5 contains a memoir of Darwin by Brown, who was Darwin’s student].

Eckert, Wallace J., Punched Card Methods in Scientific Computation (NY, 1940)

Hoffleit, Dorrit, Astronomy at Yale, 1901-68 (Connecticut Academy of Arts & Sciences, New Haven, CT, 1992).

de Vaucouleurs, Gérard, Discovery of the Universe (MacMillan, 1957).

Obituary of Wallace Eckert, NY Times, 25 Aug 1971, p. 48.

Gutzwiller, M.C. & D.S. Schmidt, Astronomical Papers of the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac 23, Part 1, 1986.

Sadler, D. H., “Comrie, Leslie John,” Dictionary of Scientific Biography.

Wilson, Curtis, The Hill-Brown Theory of the Moon’s Motion: Its Coming-to-be and Short-lived Ascendancy (1877-1984) (Springer, NY, 2010).

Search ADS for works about Brown

Other References: Scientific

[There is a nearly complete bibliography at the end of the biographical memoir by Schlesinger and Brouwer.]

Brouwer, Dirk & Gerald M. Clemence, Methods of Celestial Mechanics (Academic Press, NY, 1961).

Brown, E.W., “On the Determination of a Certain Class of Inequalities in the Moon’s Motion,” MNRAS 52, 71-80 (1891).

Brown, E.W., “Note on the Lunar Theory,” MNRAS 52, 408-09 (1892).

Brown, Ernest W., “On the Part of the Parallactic Inequalities in the Moon’s Motion Which is a Function of the Mean Motions of the Sun and Moon,” American Journal of Mathematics 14, 141-60 (1892).

Brown, E.W., An Introductory Treatise on the Lunar Theory (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 1896; Dover, NY, 1960).

Brown, Ernest W., “Theory of the Motion of the Moon” published in the Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society in five parts, between 1897 and 1908. This paper is a publication of the details of Brown's lunar theory, which was used for calculating lunar ephemerides in the American Ephemeris and Nuatical Almanac until 1984.

Brown, Ernest W., “On Recent Progress Toward the Solution of Problems in Hydrodynamics,” Science 8, 641-51 (1898).

Brown, Ernest W., “A Possible Explanation of the Sun-spot Period,” MNRAS 60, 599-606 (1900).

Brown, Ernest William, “On the Formation of the Derivatives of the Lunar Coordinates with Respect to the Elements” Transactions of the American Mathematical Society 4, 234-48 (1903).

Brown, E.W., “On the Completion of the Solution of the Main Problem in the New Lunar Theory,” MNRAS 65, 104-08 (1904).

Brown, E.W., The Inequalities in the Motion of the Moon Due to the Direct Action of the Planets. An Essay which Obtained the Adams Prize in the University of Cambridge for the Year 1907 by Ernest W. Brown (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 1908).

Brown, Ernest W., “The Elliptic Inequalities in the Lunar Theory,” American Journal of Mathematics 15, 244-63 (1893).

Brown, Ernest W., “Lunar Inequalities Due to Planetary Action,” MNRAS 68, 148-70 (1908).

Brown, Ernest W., “On the Plans for New Tables of the Moon’s Motion,” MNRAS 70, 148-75 (1909).

Brown, E.W., “On a New Family of Periodic Orbits in the Problem of Three Bodies,” MNRAS 71, 438-54 (1911).

Brown, E.W., “On the Oscillating Orbits about the Triangular Equilibrium Points in the Problem of Three Bodies,” MNRAS 71, 492-502 (1911).

Brown, Ernest W., with the assistance of Henry Benjamin Hedrick, Tables of the Motion of the Moon (Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, CT, 1919), vols. 1-2vol. 3vol. 4.

Brown, E.W., “The General Orbits of the Asteroids of the Trojan Group,” Astronomical Journal 35, 69 (1923).

Brown, Ernest W., “Complement to the Tables of the Motion of the Moon, Containing the Remainder Terms for the Century 1800-1900, and Errata in the Tables, by Ernest W. Brown with the assistance of H. B. Hedrick,” Transactions of the Astronomical Observatory of Yale University3 155-204 (1926).

Brown, Ernest W., “The Evidence for Changes in the Rate of Rotation of the Earth and Their Geophysical Consequences, with a Summary and Discussion of the Deviations of the Moon and Sun from Their Gravitational Orbits,” Transactions of the Astronomical Observatory of Yale University3 205-38 (1926).

Brown, E.W., “On a Criterion for the Prediction of an Unknown Planet,” MNRAS 92, 80-101 (1931).

Brown, Ernest W., Elements of the Theory of Resonance Illustrated by the Motion of a Pendulum (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 1932).

Brown, Ernest W., “The Motion of the Moon, 1923-1931,” MNRAS 93, 603 (1933).

Brown, E.W. & Clarence A. Shook, Planetary Theory (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1933; Dover, 1964).

Brown, Ernest W., “The Stellar Problem of Three Bodies,” MNRAS 97, 56-61 (1936)97, 62-65 (1936)97, 116-26 (1936); & 97, 388-95 (1937).

Brown, Ernest W., “On the Calculation of the Principal Parts of the Motions of the Lunar Perigee and Node,” Astronomical Journal 45, 84-88 (1936).

Brown, Ernest W. & Dirk Brouwer, “Compilation and Discussion of 1405 Occultations Observed in 1935,” Astronomical Journal 46, 181-88 (1937).

Brown, Ernest W., “The Age of the Earth from Astronomical Data,” Bulletin of the National Research Council 80, 460-66 (1931).

Brown, Ernest W., “The Stellar Problem of Three Bodies. I. Application of Satellite Theory,” MNRAS 97, 56-61 (1936).

Brown, Ernest W., “The Stellar Problem of Three Bodies. II. The Equations of Motion with a Simplified Solution,” MNRAS 97, 62-66 (1936).

Brown, Ernest W., “The Stellar Problem of Three Bodies. III. The Motions of the Apse and Node with Applications to the Moon,” MNRAS 97, 116-27 (1936).

Brown, Ernest W., “The Stellar Problem of Three Bodies. IV. Perturbations in the system ζ Ursae Majoris,” MNRAS 97, 388-95 (1937).

Brown, Ernest W.. “The Equations of Motion of the Moon,” American Journal of Mathematics60, 785-92 (1938).

Comrie, L. J., “On the Construction of Tables by Interpolation,” MNRAS 88, 506-23 (1928).

Russell, Henry Norris, “The Determination of the Position of the Moon by Photography,” PASP 32, 105-11 (1920).

Search ADS for works by Brown

Other Works: Popularizations, History, etc.

Brown, Ernest W., “A Popular Article on the Future of the Earth's History,” Totteridge Park Magazine (about 1887).

Brown, E.W., “Co-education in the Colleges and Universities of the United States,” Cambridge Review 17, 330-331 (1896).

Brown, Ernest W., “Glimpses of English Student Life,” Haverfordian 20, 155-59 (1899).

Brown, Ernest W., “A Scramble up the Matterhorn,” Haverfordian 22, 141-46 (1901).

Brown, Ernest W., “The Relations between Jupiter and the Asteroids,” Science 33, 79-93 (1911).

Brown, Ernest W., “Biographical Memoir of George William Hill, 1839-1914,” Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences 8, 273-309 (1916).

Brown, Ernest W., “Mathematics,” in The Development of the Sciences by E.W. Brown, H.A. Bumstead, J. Johnston, F. Schlesinger, H.E. Gregory, & L.L. Woodruff (Yale Univ. Press, 1923).