Kenneth Edgeworth

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Kenneth Essex Edgeworth

Kenneth Essex Edgeworth was an Army officer, engineer, economist and independent theoretical astronomer[1]. He was born 26 February 1880 in Street, County Westmeath[2]. He is best known for proposing the existence of a disc of bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune from the 1930s: observations later confirmed the existence of the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt in 1992. Today we group those distant solar system bodies, including Pluto, Eris, and Makemake, into the Kuiper belt. Some astronomers, however, go with the term Edgeworth-Kuiper belt[3].

Early life[edit]

Edgeworth was born on 26 February 1880 at D Street, County Westmeath, Ireland to Elisabeth Dupré Wilson and Thomas Edgeworth. His father's family was from Kilshruley, Co. Longford. near Edgeworthstown, whose estates were the seats of his father's ancestors; William Wilson, his uncle on his mother's side and the owner of Daramona, built an observatory there and with George Minchin and George Fitzgerald made various types of observations, including pioneering photometric measurements of starlight.[4][5] Edgeworth's family moved to the estate at Kilshrewly four years after his birth. He remained a regular visitor to the observatory, meeting Wilson's scientific friends, and he later dedicated his autobiography to him.[6][7][8][9][10] It was his uncle who also proposed Edgeworth to the RAS.[11]

Kenneth Essex was born into the archetypal gentleman literary and scientific families, the literary connection being mainly through the Edgeworth line and the scientific being principally through the Wilson family. At the time of Kenneth Essex’s birth, there were two branches of the Edgeworth family extant, the senior branch descended from Richard Love II Edgeworth, and the junior, Kilshrewly, branch.[12]

After residing at Daramona, Edgeworth’s parents moved to Ardglas House and then to Mount Murray, near Lough Owel. After about four years at Mount Murray, they then moved to the family home at Kilshrewly, about 7 miles from Edgeworthstown to join Kenneth Essex’s grandfather, retired clergyman Essex Edgeworth. At Kilshrewly, Kenneth Essex developed his engineering skills in his father’s well-equipped workshop, building small engines, and also experimenting with fireworks and photography.[11]

Edgeworth He served with the Royal Engineers in several locations, including in France during World War I. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Military Cross.[13]

Family life[edit]

Kenneth Edgeworth’s parents were Thomas Newcomen Edgeworth (1850-1931) and Elizabeth Durpé Wilson. The Edgeworth family originated from Kilshrewly, Co. Longford. The family that Edgeworth was born into was ‘the archetypal gentleman literary and scientific families’ (McFarland, 1996). The literary link is said to have come more from the Edgeworth side of the family and the scientific link being mainly from the Wilson side. When Edgeworth was born, two subdivisions existed within the in existent Edgeworth family. The superior side descended from Richard Lovell Edgeworth, and the inferior side descended from Kilshrewly branch. [7]

Edgeworth was born at Daramona House in the year 1880 and this house was located in County Westmeath. This house seemed to be his uncles, William Edward Wilson. William Wilson was a past Irish astronomer and that would make it seem that his nephew, Kenneth was inspired to follow in his famous uncles footsteps. The house, Daramona House that Edgeworth was born in appeared to play a notable part in the growth of his astronomical career. His uncle William also played a big part in his famous career as it was he who recommended the ‘Royal Astronomical Society' which was formed nearly 200 years ago to Kenneth so he could learn more about what he wanted to pursue a career in [1]. It is based on Piccadilly in London. The Royal Astronomical Society is a society which supports and encourages the study of astronomy and the solar system.  [14]

Four years post Kenneth’s birth him and his family relocated to the estate that was located at Kilshrewly. After the move he still frequently visited the observatory which his uncle William had built which was at Daramona house. It had ‘Grubb 12-inch’ and ’24-inch reflectors’ which he had required from Sir Howard Grubb of Dublin a year after he went on an expedition to Algeria to observe the 1870 total eclipse, at just age 19 [1]. At the observatory he met with friends of his uncles, George Minchin and George Fitzgerald. Observations included the 1882 transit of Venus. Later on, in Edgeworth’s life he devoted his biography to them. [6]

Military career[edit]

When aged 17, he attended the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, London, where he won the Pollock Medal (for the best cadet) in 1898. He also attended the Royal School of Military Engineering at Chatham and served a commission in the Corps of Royal Engineers in Egypt. [15]Posted to South Africa, he took part in the Second Boer War and was promoted to lieutenant on 3 July 1901. Following the end of the war he left Cape Town on the SS Englishman in late September 1902, and arrived at Southampton in late October, when he was posted at Chatham.[16] He later served in Somaliland and Dublin. In the First World War he served in Royal Corps of Signals to maintain communications in France, was mentioned in dispatches three times and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross. He was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and retired in 1926. Sometime during his military years, he became a member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers. He was the chief engineer in the posts and telegraphs department for five years in Sudan; he also wrote a paper on thermionic generators around this time.[17] In 1931, he returned to his parents' home Cherbury, in Booterstown.[6] He excelled in his military career so much so because he was highly educated and very intelligent. The importance of academics came from his home. Edgeworth’s uncle, William E. Wilson established an observatory in the house Edgeworth was born, Daramona House in Westmeath. Wilson set up the observatory with 12-inch and 24-inch reflectors.[18]

Economic and Astronomical Career[edit]

In 1902, Edgeworth’s uncle, William E. Wilson proposed his nephew for election to the Royal Astronomical Society. Edgeworth was elected the following year. At the meeting, one of his papers was read. [19] He studied international economics during the Great depression and wrote five books about it during the 1930s and 1940s. He also wrote about the usage of turf as a fuel. Edgeworth had an understanding of the use of turf as he was from a rural background, born in Westmeath, a county in the midlands of Ireland.

Influenced by his uncle's former astronomical endeavors, he published scientific papers (at least from 1939) on the Solar system, star formation, red dwarf stars and astronomical redshifts. He said in 1938 that Pluto (discovered eight years earlier by Clyde Tombaugh) was too small to be a planet but was likely a large example of the original material of the Solar system. In the Journal of the British Astronomical Association (BAA), he published The Evolution of Our Planetary System in 1943 (the same year that he was elected to the BAA), with a key reference to a mass of comets existing past Neptune. He was elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 1948. In 1949 he followed his 1943 paper with The Origin and Evolution of the Solar System. He suggested there was a huge number of small bodies at a great distance, with infrequent clustering limiting their size, but with the occasional inward cometary visitor. In 1950, Jan Oort published his paper in which the Oort cloud was put forward. A year after that, Gerard Kuiper presented his paper at the 50th-anniversary symposium of Yerkes Observatory and it is not known why he did not refer to Edgeworth's papers.[20][21] [22][23] The Edgeworth-Kuiper belt has been most frequently referred to as the Kuiper belt and this has caused a dispute:

From Steven J. Dick, in Discovery and Classification in Astronomy: Controversy and Consensus:
"...others also envisioned trans-Neptunian objects beyond Pluto. As with most Americans, in this book we use the term "Kuiper Belt," demonstrating that if classes and classification systems are socially constructed... nomenclature is even more so."[24]
From Dr. Alan Stern, principal investigator of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto, reported in the Irish Times:
"Kenneth Edgeworth probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves. In 1943 and 1949 he had papers that were brilliant. He nailed it."[21]

Edgeworth published his autobiography, aged 85, in 1965, "Jack of all Trades. The Story Of my Life". He died in Dublin in 1972.[25]

Later Life and Death[edit]

Kenneth Edgeworth was an alumni of both the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich and the School of Military Engineering at Chatham. He served with the Royal Engineers in South Africa, Somaliland, Egypt, Sudan, Chatham, and Dublin. During World War 1 he was placed in charge of a signals unit in France, after his service for the royal military, he was awarded a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and a Military Cross (MC).[26]  During 1916, Edgeworth took a leave of absence, it was then he met Isabel Mary, the widow of Arthur F. Eves. The pair then got engaged and married on the 23rd of August 1917. Edgeworth retired from the military in 1926, as a Lieutenant-Colonel. In 1931 he became chief engineer in the Sudanese Department of Posts and Telegraphs before finally returning home to Ireland. In his retirement, Edgeworth published four books on economics and over a 23-year period published a number of letters and papers which culminated in his book ‘The Earth, the Planets and the Stars: Their Birth and Evolution’ (1961). However, before this publication, in 1943, Edgeworth wrote a piece for the Journal of the British Astronomical Association which suggested the idea of a vast reservoir of cometary material beyond Neptune’s orbit. This was later validated as ‘Kuiper’s Belt,’ and despite suggesting it in the 1940s, Edgeworth’s astronomical findings were not recognised until 1995. Kenneth Edgeworth died in Dublin on October 10th, 1972, at the age of 92.[27]


Edgeworth published on topics of engineering, economics and astronomy. His known books and papers include the following[28][29]:

  • Frequency variations in thermionic generators. (London, IEE, 1926)
  • The industrial crisis, its causes and its lessons. (London, G. Allen & Unwin Ltd.,1933)
  • The trade balance; a problem in national planning. (London, G. Allen & Unwin Ltd.,1934)
  • The price level; a further problem in national planning. (London, G. Allen & Unwin Ltd.,1935)
  • A plan for the distressed areas. (location/publisher unidentified, 1936)
  • The Fission of Rotating Bodies. (London, Monthly Noices of the Royal Astronomical Society, vol.99, 1939)
  • The manufacture of peat fuel. (Paper read at the Royal Dublin Society, 26 November 1940)(Dublin, Royal Dublin Society, 1940)
  • Unemployment can be cured. (Dublin, Eason, 1941; London, distributed by Simpkin & Marshall, 1944)
  • Turf. (Dublin, Sign of the Three Candles, 1944)
  • Some Aspects of Stellar Evolution [papers I - III] (London, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, vol. 106, 1946)
  • Some Aspects of Stellar Evolution [paper IV] (London, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, vol. 108, 1948)
  • The Origin and Evolution of the Solar System (London, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, vols. 109, 1949)
  • The Earth, the Planets, and the Stars: Their Birth and Evolution. (London, Chapman & Hall/New York, Macmillan,1961)
  • Jack of All Trades – The Story of My Life. (Dublin, Alan Figgis, 1965)


The asteroid 3487 Edgeworth (1978 UF), a main-belt asteroid discovered on 28 October 1978 by H. L. Giclas at Flagstaff, is named in his honour.[17]

Kenneth Edgeworth has left behind a very important legacy in the astronomy world. In 1943 the proposal of a reservoir of icy objects beyond Neptune[30]. Eight years later the astronomer Gerard_Kuiper came up with a more detailed prediction. Those distant solar bodies included Pluto, Eris_(dwarf_planet) and Makemake onto the Kuiper_belt. Some astronomers, however, name it as the Edgeworth – Kuiper belt. In 1948 he was elected to membership of the Royal Irish Academy, but it wasn’t until 1995 his research was not fully recognised.[31] He was also elected a Fellow of the Royal_Astronomical_Society in 1903 and belonged to the Institution_of_Electrical_Engineers in 1943. These legacies really show his talent within the Irish astronomers not alone within the talent associated within the globe at this time.

While retired Kenneth Edgeworth has published four books devoted to economics named Edgeworth - n.d. ,1932,1933 and 1944. These were all wrote circa The Second World war and were based on topics such as “Unemployment Can be Cured” and “Trade Balance”. Although these were based on economics, Edgeworth has been far more credited for his work in Astronomy as well as writing much more in this subject area which has been beneficial to this subject. His book “The Earth, the Planet, and the Stars: Their Birth and Evolution” on the subject of theoretical astronomy based research which he wrote in 1961.

Kenneth Edgeworth had such an interest in star formation and the development of the Solar_System. He even wrote a paper specifically on the “Origin and the evolution of the solar system”[32] which continued to research beyond Neptune.

Edgeworth works have proven to be vital in further studies in astronomy and with studies of Pluto. The Edgeworth – Kuiper belt has influenced many astronomers to read more into the demotion of Pluto as a planet.


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  2. ^ "Edgeworth, Kenneth Essex". Retrieved 2018-11-12.
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  4. ^ Butler, C.J, Elliot, I., eds. (1993). Stellar Photometry: Current Techniques and Future Developments: IAU Colloquium 136. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 3.
  5. ^ Butler, C. J. "Early Photelectric Photometry in Dublin and Daramona". Irish Astronomical Journal. 17(3): 373.
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  8. ^ Brück, M. T. (1996). "News & comments: The Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt?". Irish Astronomical Journal. Dubln. 23: 3–6.
  9. ^ Hughes, Stefan (2012). Catchers of the Light: The Forgotten Lives of the Men and Women Who First Photographed the Heavens. Cyprus: ArtDeCiel Publishing. p. 608.
  10. ^ "History: Information about our town and its rich history". Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  11. ^ a b "An Aldershot Connection With Astronomer Kenneth E Edgeworth | Farnham Astronomical Society". Retrieved 2018-11-13.
  12. ^ McFarland, John (1996-01). "Kenneth Essex Edgeworth—Victorian polymath and founder of the Kuiper belt?". Vistas in Astronomy. 40 (2): 343–354. doi:10.1016/0083-6656(96)00014-1. ISSN 0083-6656. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  13. ^ "Edgeworth, Kenneth Essex". Retrieved 2018-11-13.
  14. ^ "Royal Astronomical Society". Wikipedia. Retrieved November 18 2018. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  15. ^ :
  16. ^ "The Army in South Africa - Troops returning Home". The Times (36888). London. 2 October 1902. p. 4.
  17. ^ a b "An Aldershot connection with astronomer K. E. Edgeworth". Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Hughes, Stefan (2012) “Catchers of the Light: the Forgotten Lives of the Men and Women Who first Photographed the Heavens
  20. ^ Elkins-Tanton, Linda T. (2006). Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and the Outer Solar System. New York: Chelsea House.
  21. ^ a b Enright, Leo (17 July 2015). "Pluto images boost legacy of a dogged Irish astronomer". The Irish Times. Dublin.
  22. ^ "Comet". Retrieved 19 July 2018.
  23. ^ "Kuiper belt". Retrieved 19 July 2018.
  24. ^ Dick, Steven J. (2013). Discovery and Classification in Astronomy: Controversy and Consensus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 373.
  25. ^
  26. ^ "Edgeworth, Kenneth Essex". Retrieved 2018-11-22.
  27. ^ Essex., EDGEWORTH, Kenneth (1965). Jack of all Trades. The story of my life. [With plates.]. Dublin. OCLC 559406170.
  28. ^ "Edgeworth, Kenneth Essex 1880-1972". Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  29. ^ "Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society". Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  30. ^ "Kenneth Edgeworth". Physics Today. 2016. doi:10.1063/pt.5.031162. ISSN 1945-0699.
  31. ^ "Edgeworth, Kenneth Essex". Retrieved 2018-11-21.
  32. ^ "1949MNRAS.109..600E Page 600". Retrieved 2018-11-22.

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