The Dynamics of an Asteroid

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The cover of The Dynamics of an Asteroid, from the 2011 film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

The Dynamics of an Asteroid is a fictional book by Professor James Moriarty, the implacable foe of Sherlock Holmes. The only mention of it in Arthur Conan Doyle's original Holmes stories is in The Valley of Fear (written in 1914, but set in 1888) when Holmes says of Moriarty:[1]

Is he not the celebrated author of The Dynamics of an Asteroid, a book which ascends to such rarefied heights of pure mathematics that it is said that there was no man in the scientific press capable of criticizing it?

Participants in the "Sherlockian game", where Sherlock Holmes fans elaborate on elements within Doyle's stories, have suggested other details about The Dynamics of an Asteroid.

Related real works[edit]

In 1809, Carl Friedrich Gauss wrote a ground-breaking treatise[2] on the dynamics of an asteroid (Ceres). However, Gauss's method was understood immediately and is still used today.[3]

Two decades before Arthur Conan Doyle's writing, the Canadian-American dynamic astronomer Simon Newcomb had published a series of books analyzing motions of planets in the solar system.[4] The notoriously spiteful Newcomb could have been an inspiration for Professor Moriarty.[5]

An example of mathematics too abstruse to be criticized is the letters of Srinivasa Ramanujan, sent to several mathematicians at the University of Cambridge in 1913.[6] Only one of these mathematicians, G. H. Hardy, even recognized their merit. Despite being experts in the branches of mathematics used, he and J.E. Littlewood added that many of them "defeated me completely; I had never seen anything in the least like them before." Holmes only states that "it is said" (emphasis added) that no one in the scientific press was capable of criticizing Moriarty's work; he stops short of recognizing the claim as indisputably accurate.

Similarly, when it was jocularly suggested to Arthur Eddington in 1919 that he was one of only three people in the world who understood Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, Eddington quipped that he could not think who the third person was.[7]

Discussion of possible book contents[edit]

Doyle provided no indication of the contents of Dynamics other than its title. Speculation about its contents published by later authors includes:

Related references in media[edit]

  • In "His Last Vow", the final episode of series 3 of the BBC television series Sherlock, Sherlock's mother, M.L. Holmes, is shown to have written a lengthy textbook with the title The Dynamics of Combustion, a reference to this book.
  • In "Henny Penny the Sky Is Falling", the 100th episode of the CBS television series Elementary, the plot evolves around a fictional paper with the title Miscalculating Near-Earth Asteroids and the Threat to Human Existence.
  • The pastiche novel Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D'Urbervilles by film critic and horror novelist Kim Newman includes a chapter parodying both "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League" and H. G. Wells's novel The War of the Worlds, in which an arrogant former student of Moriarty's named Nevil Airey-Stent publicly rubbishes The Dynamics of an Asteroid to prove that it is indeed susceptible to criticism, prompting an enraged Moriarty to orchestrate an elaborate plan to drive Stent insane by convincing him that he has been contacted by visitors from the planet Mars.
  • In "Fate/Grand Order", Moriarty's Noble Phantasm is called The Dynamics of an Asteroid, where he launches a barrage of bullets and lasers from his weapon, ending with him saying the name of his Noble Phantasm.

Citation analysis[edit]

Citation analysis, which involves examining an item's referring documents, is used in searching for materials and analyzing their merit. Since citation analysis does not look at a document's contents, only references to it, it can be applied to a documents that do not in fact exist, such as Dynamics or A Treatise on the Binomial Theorem, another work by Moriarty.

Dynamics is referenced in the professional scientific literature[15][16] and in textbooks.[17]

A list of references to documents mentioned in the Sherlock Holmes stories[18] shows 42 references to Dynamics and 27 to Treatise, which are a lower limit, since the list is not up to date. An online search, as of 2005, for these titles with author Moriarty, reveals 263 references to Dynamics and 209 to Treatise. These are very high numbers for any scientific paper, where the overall average is about 6 references. They are even more numerous when compared to other papers from the same era – by 1900, the Royal Society's Catalog of Scientific Papers already listed 800,000 papers from 3,000 journals.[19] Most of these have been forgotten, and only a few are still referenced today, as shown by analyses of references to old scientific articles.[20]


  1. ^ Doyle, Arthur Conan (1929). The Complete Sherlock Holmes Long Stories. London, UK: Murray. p. 409. ISBN 978-0-7195-0356-6.
  2. ^ Gauss, C.F. (1809). Theoria motus corporum coelestium in sectionibus conicis solem ambientium. Hamburg, Germany: Friedrich Perthes and I.H. Besser – via Google Books.
  3. ^ Teets, Donald; Whitehead, Karen (April 1999). "The discovery of Ceres: How Gauss became famous". Mathematics Magazine. 72 (2): 83–93. doi:10.1080/0025570X.1999.11996710. JSTOR 2690592.
  4. ^ Marsden, B. (1981). "Newcomb, Simon". In Gillespie, C.C. (ed.). Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 10. New York, NY: Charles Screibner's Sons. pp. 33–36. ISBN 0-684-16970-3.
  5. ^ Schaefer, B.E. (1993). "Sherlock Holmes and some astronomical connections". Journal of the British Astronomical Association. 103 (1): 30–34. Bibcode:1993JBAA..103...30S.
  6. ^ Kanigel, R. (1991). The Man Who Knew Infinity: A life of the genius Ramanujan. Scribner. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-671-75061-9.
  7. ^ Chandrasekhar, S. (1976). "Verifying the Theory of Relativity". Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London. 30 (2): 255. ISSN 0035-9149. JSTOR 531756.
  8. ^ Asimov, I. (1976). More Tales of the Black Widowers. Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-11176-8.
  9. ^ Asimov, I.; Waugh, C.G. (1985). Sherlock Holmes through Time and Space. UK: Severn House. pp. 339–355. ISBN 978-0-312-94400-1.
  10. ^ Kaye, Marvin, ed. (1994). The Game is Afoot. USA: St Martin's Press. pp. 488–493. ISBN 978-0-312-11797-9.
  11. ^ Resnick, Mike; Greenberg, Martin H., eds. (1997). Sherlock Holmes in Orbit. Fine Communications. ISBN 978-0-886-77636-7.
  12. ^ Jenkins, Alejandro (2013). "On the title of Moriarty's 'Dynamics of an asteroid' ". arXiv:1302.5855 [physics.pop-ph].
  13. ^ Poincaré, Jules Henri (1890). "Sur le problème des trois corps et les équations de la dynamique. Divergence des séries de M. Lindstedt". Acta Mathematica. 13 (1–2): 1–270. doi:10.1007/BF02392506.
  14. ^ Diacu, Florin; Holmes, Philip (1996). Celestial Encounters: The origins of chaos and stability. Princeton University Press.
  15. ^ Wesson, P.S. (2002). "On higher-dimensional dynamics". Journal of Mathematical Physics. 43 (5): 2423–2438. arXiv:gr-qc/0105059. Bibcode:2002JMP....43.2423W. doi:10.1063/1.1462418. S2CID 14014253, Pre-print at
  16. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (5 August 2003). "background for name of asteroid (5048) Moriarty.". Dictionary of Minor Planet Names. International Astronomical Union. p. 434. ISBN 9783540002383 – via Google Books.
  17. ^ Mehlmann, A. (2000). The Game's Afoot!: Game theory in myth and paradox. American Mathematical Society. ISBN 978-0-8218-2121-3.
  18. ^ "Canonical Publications - HISTORICAL & FICTIONAL CHARACTERS IN SHERLOCKIAN PASTICHES". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28.
  19. ^ de Andrade Martins, Roberto. "Strategies for the Development of Databases - History of Science, Medicine and Technology. Bibliography of Primary Sources: Articles". Archived from the original on 2005-12-26.
  20. ^ Marx, Werner & Cardona, Manuel (2004). "Blasts from the past". Physics World. IOP Publishing. 17 (2): 14–15. doi:10.1088/2058-7058/17/2/21.

External links[edit]