A. Laurent

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Asteroids discovered: 1
51 Nemausa 22 January 1858

A. Laurent (or J. Laurent) was a French amateur astronomer who discovered the asteroid 51 Nemausa in 1858, for which he was a recipient of the Lalande Prize awarded by the French Academy of Sciences. His first name is apparently unknown, and even his first initial is somewhat unclear.

Hand-drawn start chart noting the discovery of 51 Nemausa, whose track of motion is depicted ([4])

He never made any more asteroid discoveries and not much more seems to be known about him. He was described as a "very skillful young man" (un jeune homme très habile) by Édouard Stephan.[1] He was described as a "distinguished pupil of the Marseille school", and as an amateur astronomer and an inspector of the assay office in Nîmes (contrôleur du bureau de garantie de Nîmes).[2]

Hand-drawn star chart (detail) noting the discovery of 51 Nemausa, zoomed to show handwritten legend at top, which credits J. Laurent ([5])

The asteroid was discovered using the private observatory at the house formerly occupied by Benjamin Valz, who left in 1836 to become the new director of the Marseille Observatory. He entrusted his former observatory to Laurent, who later found the asteroid. The house, at 32 rue Nationale in Nîmes (at that time known as rue de l'Agau), has a plaque commemorating the discovery.[3]

Laurent was awarded the Lalande Prize of the French Academy of Sciences in 1858 for his discovery, jointly with five other asteroid and comet discoverers.[4] In addition, asteroid 162 Laurentia was named in his honour.

First name[edit]

Most nineteenth-century sources do not mention his first name, referring to him only as "M. Laurent", the standard French abbreviation for Monsieur Laurent.

His initial is given as "A." in the list of asteroid discoverers maintained by the Minor Planet Center[5], as well as in the Dictionary of Minor Planet Names by Lutz D. Schmadel at the entries for both 52 Nemausa and 162 Laurentia.[6][7] At these entries Schmadel cites Astronomische Nachrichten articles[8][9] which however do not mention the discoverer's initial. He also cites The Names of the Minor Planets (OCLC 1829066) by Paul Herget of the Cincinnati Observatory, on pages 8 and 20, respectively; this was a predecessor publication to his own work and initially an important source for it.[10]

On the other hand, a small set of astronomical charts known to have been drawn up by Laurent himself, as well as a hand-drawn star chart portraying the discovery of 51 Nemausa, show his name as J. Laurent (see images).

Equinoxial charts drawn up by Laurent ([6])]

In 1857, it was reported that Valz had undertaken the publication of equinoxial charts, to be drawn up by Laurent.[11][12] When Valz reported the discovery of Nemausa in a letter to the Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des Sciences, he cited this as the "first success" of these equinoxial charts.[13] The equinoxial charts in question indicate the author as "J. Laurent" (see image) and this is also indicated in a library catalog.[14] A notation (see image) at the top of a hand-drawn star chart in the Observatoire de Marseille - Patrimoines archives notes the discovery of the asteroid as follows: Némausa (51) dec. [ = découverte ] à Nîmes par J. Laurent (22 janvier 1858), which means "51 Nemausa disc. [ = discovered ] at Nîmes by J. Laurent (22 January 1858)".[15] Note Laurent's mentor Valz was director of the Marseille Observatory.


  1. ^ Stephan, Edouard (1914). "L'Observatoire de Marseille [seconde partie : histoire depuis la Révolution]". Encyclopédie départementale des Bouches du Rhône, volume VI (in French). Marseille. Archived from the original on 2012-06-19. 
  2. ^ "Nouvelles de la Semaine". Cosmos: revue encyclopédique hebdomadaire des progrès des sciences et de leurs applications aux arts et à l'industrie (in French) (Tramblay). Volume 12: 197. 1858. 
  3. ^ Pieyre, Adolphe (1886). Histoire de la Ville de Nîmes (in French) – via nemausensis.com. DANS CETTE MAISON DU HAUT DE L'OBSERVATOIRE DE L'ASTRONOME NIMOIS BENJAMIN VALZ (1787–1867) SON DISCIPLE LAURENT DECOUVRIT LE 24 JANVIER 1858 LA PETITE PLANETE NEMAUSA 
  4. ^ Fondation Lalande (1859). "Prix décérnés pour l'année 1858". Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences (in French) 48: 484–487. 
  5. ^ http://www.minorplanetcenter.net/iau/lists/NumberedMPs000001.html
  6. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (2012). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names. Volume 2 (Sixth ed.). Springer. p. 18. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-29718-2. ISBN 9783642297175. LCCN 2012939725. 
  7. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (2012). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names. Volume 2 (Sixth ed.). Springer. p. 27. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-29718-2. ISBN 9783642297175. LCCN 2012939725. 
  8. ^ "Entdeckung eines Planeten: Schreiben des Herrn Valz an den Herausgeber". Astronomische Nachrichten (in French) (1426): 349–350. February 1858. 
  9. ^ "Entdeckung neuer Planeten (162, 163)". Astronomische Nachrichten (2090): 31–32. May 1876. 
  10. ^ Schmadel, ibid, p. 10
  11. ^ "Séance du 5 octobre 1857". L'Institut: journal universel des sciences (in French). vol. 25 (no. 1240): 329. 1857-10-07. M. Valz a entrepris à Marseille la publication de cartes équinoxiales dont l'exécution matérielle est confiée à M. Laurent, de Nîmes. 
  12. ^ Walz (1857). "Sur les cartes équinoxiales, et les services qu'elles peuvent rendre à l'astronomie". Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences (in French) 45: 456–459. 
  13. ^ "Mémoires et communications". Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences (in French) 46: 189–190. 1858. Je viens vous prier de communiquer à l'Académie le premier succès obtenu d'après les nouvelles cartes équinoxiales... 
  14. ^ Laurent, J. Cartes équinoxiales, époque 1800. Nos 2. 3. 4. 14. 15, dressées à l'Observatoire de M. Valz à Nimes en 1857. OCLC 492553657. 
  15. ^ Note the same unusual-looking lowercase "d" also occurs on the prior page (image 85): "dressée le 16 fév"[1]; on image 69 ("découvertes")[2]; on image 68 ("Goldschmidt")[3]; etc.)