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:
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?
Related real works
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. The notoriously spiteful Newcomb could have been an inspiration for Professor Moriarty.
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. 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.
Discussion of possible book contents
Doyle provided no indication of the contents of Dynamics other than its title. Speculation about its contents published by later authors includes:
- "The Ultimate Crime", short story by Isaac Asimov, in More Tales of the Black Widowers, and republished in Sherlock Holmes through Time and Space.
- "The Dynamics of an Asteroid", short story by Robert Bloch, The Baker Street Journal, 1953, and also found in The Game is Afoot.
- "The Adventure of the Russian Grave", a short story by William Barton and Michael Capobianco, collected in Sherlock Holmes in Orbit.
- In the novel Spider-Man: The Revenge of the Sinister Six, by Adam-Troy Castro, a veiled reference is made to Moriarty and his Dynamics. Here the work is said to still be the authority on orbital bombardment.
- Physicist Alejandro Jenkins in 2013 suggested chaos theory, an esoteric branch of mathematics whose association with asteroid dynamics was not appreciated by real-world mathematicians until the work of Henri Poincaré in 1890.
- Simon P. Norton and Alain Goriely have each suggested that the book might have been Moriarty's submission to the 1887 celestial mechanics contest of King Oscar II of Sweden (which was won by Henri Poincaré.)
Related references in media
- 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.
- Doyle, Arthur Conan (1929). The Complete Sherlock Holmes Long Stories. London, UK: Murray. p. 409. ISBN 978-0-7195-0356-6.
- Gauss, C.F. (1809). Theoria motus corporum coelestium in sectionibus conicis solem ambientium. Hamburg, Germany: Friedrich Perthes and I.H. Besser – via Google Books.
- 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.
- Marsden, B. (1981). "Newcomb, Simon". In Gillespie, C.C. (ed.). Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Vol. 10. New York, NY: Charles Screibner's Sons. pp. 33–36. ISBN 0-684-16970-3.
- Schaefer, B.E. (1993). "Sherlock Holmes and some astronomical connections". Journal of the British Astronomical Association. 103 (1): 30–34. Bibcode:1993JBAA..103...30S.
- Kanigel, R. (1991). The Man Who Knew Infinity: A life of the genius Ramanujan. Scribner. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-671-75061-9.
- 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.
- Asimov, I. (1976). More Tales of the Black Widowers. Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-11176-8.
- Asimov, I.; Waugh, C.G. (1985). Sherlock Holmes through Time and Space. UK: Severn House. pp. 339–355. ISBN 978-0-312-94400-1.
- Kaye, Marvin, ed. (1994). The Game is Afoot. USA: St Martin's Press. pp. 488–493. ISBN 978-0-312-11797-9.
- Resnick, Mike; Greenberg, Martin H., eds. (1997). Sherlock Holmes in Orbit. Fine Communications. ISBN 978-0-886-77636-7.
- Jenkins, Alejandro (2013). "On the title of Moriarty's 'Dynamics of an asteroid' ". arXiv:1302.5855 [physics.pop-ph].
- 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.
- Diacu, Florin; Holmes, Philip (1996). Celestial Encounters: The origins of chaos and stability. Princeton University Press.
- "Sherlock Holmes and the Three-Body Problem". Mathematics Today. Institute of Mathematics & its applications. February 2014. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.672.4223.
- Alain Goriely and Derek E. Moulton (April 2012). "The Mathematics Behind Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" (PDF). SIAM News. Vol. 45, no. 3. Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.
- List of many references to Dynamics, as well as other works of Moriarty, Holmes, and others.