Joseph Jean Pierre Laurent

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Asteroids discovered: 1 [1]
51 Nemausa 22 January 1858[2]
Hand-drawn star chart noting the discovery of 51 Nemausa, whose track of motion is depicted ([4])[dead link]
Hand-drawn star chart (detail) noting the discovery of 51 Nemausa, zoomed to show handwritten legend at top, which credits J. Laurent ([5])[dead link]
Equinoxial charts drawn up by Laurent ([6])[dead link]
Extract of letter dated September 5 1858 which gives his first name as Joseph-Jean-Pierre ([7])[dead link]

Joseph Jean Pierre Laurent (or Joseph Laurent) (died 1900[3]) was a French amateur astronomer and chemist 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. It is also likely that he is the same person as the person of that name who provided chemistry assistance to photography pioneer Disdéri in 1853.

He never made any more asteroid discoveries and not much is known about him. He was described as a "very skillful young man" (un jeune homme très habile) by Édouard Stephan.[4] 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).[5][6][7][8][9]

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.[10]

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.[11] In addition, asteroid 162 Laurentia was named in his honour.

Laurent was named assistant astronomer at the Marseille Observatory on 26 November 1858, however he resigned on 20 February 1859. He cited the disorder in the management of the observatory by Valz as the reason. Valz for his part blamed Laurent for neglecting his duties and disloyalty, in a 14 May 1863 letter to d'Abbadie.[3]

Upon his resignation in February 1859, Laurent started a chemical analysis and testing laboratory in Marseille under the name J. Icard et J. Laurent.[3]

First name[edit]

Nineteenth-century sources do not mention his first name, referring to him only as "M. Laurent", the standard French abbreviation for Monsieur Laurent. At one time the Minor Planet Center, which lists asteroid discoverers using their initials and surname, gave his name as "A. Laurent", with the "A." (for "Anonymous") as a sort of placeholder for an unknown first name. However, in a letter dated September 5, 1858 to Benjamin Valz, Laurent wrote that his first name is Joseph-Jean-Pierre (see image), and the Minor Planet Center now uses "J. J. P. Laurent".

When using only an initial rather than his full first name, he sometimes used "J. Laurent". 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). Philippe Véron in his unpublished Dictionnaire des astronomes français gives his name as "Joseph Laurent"[3]

In 1857, it was reported that Valz had undertaken the publication of equinoxial charts, to be drawn up by Laurent.[12][13] 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.[14] The equinoxial charts in question indicate the author as "J. Laurent" (see image) and this is also indicated in a library catalog.[15][16][17] 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)".[18]

Possible connection to photography pioneer Disdéri[edit]

André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri pioneered the carte de visite, an early form of mass-production portraiture photography. According to his biographer Elizabeth Anne McCauley,[19] Disdéri developed this process during his stay in Nîmes in 1853, and then moved back to Paris to make his fortune. She cites Disdéri's own book[20] which thanks a chemist and assay office inspector in Nîmes named Monsieur Laurent for his assistance with the chemistry. In her book McCauley identifies the full name of this Monsieur Laurent as Joseph Jean Pierre Laurent, citing an 1855 passport application.

The coincidence of name, profession, city and time period is suggestive, however a definitive link to the discoverer of the asteroid has not been established.


  1. ^ "Minor Planet Discoverers (by number)". Minor Planet Center. 23 May 2016. Retrieved 20 June 2016. 
  2. ^ "51 Nemausa". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 20 July 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d Véron, Philippe. "chapter L1" (PDF). Dictionnaire des Astronomes Français 1850–1950 [Dictionary of French astronomers 1850–1950] (PDF). Unpublished. pp. 271–272 (or 17–18 of chapter L1). Retrieved 12 March 2017. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ "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. 12: 197. 1858. Retrieved 2015-08-13. 
  6. ^ "Séance du 1er février 1858". L'Institut: journal universel des sciences (in French). 26 (1257): 35. 1858-02-03. Retrieved 2015-08-13. 
  7. ^ "Nouvelles et faits divers". L'ami de la religion (in French). 179: 295. 1858-02-04. Retrieved 2015-08-13. 
  8. ^ "Chronique". Revue des sociétés savantes des départements. 4: 505. 1858. Retrieved 2015-08-13. 
  9. ^ Pieyre, Adolphe (1886). Histoire de la Ville de Nîmes depuis 1830 jusqu'à nos jours (in French). vol. 2. p. 277. Retrieved 2015-08-13. 
  10. ^ "Découverte de Némausa". Retrieved 2015-08-10. 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 . Note the plaque can also be seen in Google Street View or similar.
  11. ^ Fondation Lalande (1859). "Prix décérnés pour l'année 1858". Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences (in French). 48: 484–487. 
  12. ^ "Séance du 5 octobre 1857". L'Institut: journal universel des sciences (in French). 25 (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. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ "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... 
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ Note the same unusual-looking lowercase "d" also occurs on the prior page (image 85): "dressée le 16 fév 1858"[1]; on image 69 ("découvertes")[2]; on image 68 ("Goldschmidt")[3]; etc.)
  19. ^ McCauley, Elizabeth Anne (1985). A. A. E. Disdéri and the Carte de Visite Portrait Photograph. Yale University Press. pp. 14–15,231. ISBN 0300031696. 
  20. ^ Disdéri (1853). Manuel opératoire de photographie sur collodion instantané (in French). Paris. p. 7. J'ajouterai un mot pour remercier M. Boyer, pharmacien, et surtout M. Laurent, chimiste et contrôleur de garantie à Nimes, pour les renseignemens [sic] que ce dernier eût la bonté de me fournir au sujet de la partie chimique de cet ouvrage... (I will add a word of thanks for Monsieur Boyer, pharmacist, and above all Monsieur Laurent, chemist and assay [office] inspector in Nîmes, for the information that the latter had the kindness to provide me regarding the chemistry part of this project)