The Dynamics of an Asteroid

The Dynamics of an Asteroid

The Dynamics of An Asteroid is a fictional book by Professor James Moriarty, the implacable foe of Sherlock Holmes. The book is described by author Arthur Conan Doyle in "The Valley of Fear" (written in 1914, but set in 1888) when Sherlock Holmes, speaking of Professor Moriarty, states

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?[1]

With this class of talent, Professor Moriarty evoked the profound respect of Sherlock Holmes, one of the few opponents to do so (Irene Adler being another.)

Doyle also portrayed Professor Moriarty as the author of a treatise upon the binomial theorem, written when he was only 21 years of age. In addition to covering a completely different topic, it must have been quite a bit more accessible, since it got him a position as a chair of mathematics at a provincial university.


Related real works

In 1821, Carl Friedrich Gauss wrote a ground-breaking treatise[2] on the dynamics of an asteroid (1 Ceres). However, it was understood immediately[3] and his method is still used today (see Gauss's method)}.

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

An example of mathematics that could not be criticized are the letters of Srinivasa Ramanujan, sent to several mathematicians at the University of Cambridge in 1913.[6] Only one of them, G. H. Hardy, even recognized their merit. Despite being experts in the field, he and J.E. Littlewood added that many of them "defeated me completely; I had never seen anything in the least like them before."

Discussion of possible book contents

Doyle provided no evidence relating to the contents of Dynamics. This has in no way prevented people from speculating about what it contained. Here are a few essays on this topic by some famous authors, and a list of many more references:

  • "The Ultimate Crime", short story by Isaac Asimov, in Sherlock Holmes Through Time and Space, Severn House (UK), 1985. pp. 339–355. ISBN 0-312-94400-4
  • "The Dynamics of An Asteroid", short story by Robert Bloch, The Baker Street Journal, 1953 (Also found in Marvin Kaye (ed.), The Game Is Afoot, St Martin's Press (USA), 1994. pp. 488–493 ISBN 0-312-11797-3)
  • 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.

Citation analysis

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 such as Dynamics or Treatise that do not in fact exist.

Dynamics is referenced in the professional scientific literature[7][8] and in textbooks.[9]

The list in the previous section 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 excellent numbers for any scientific paper, where the overall average is about 6 references. They are even better 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 3000 journals.[10] Most of these have been forgotten, and only a few are still referenced today, as shown by analyses of references to old scientific articles.[11] The Dynamics of An Asteroid is among the select group of Victorian scientific works that are still remembered and referenced even today, despite (or perhaps because of) its nonexistence.

External links


  1. ^ A.C. Doyle (1929). The Complete Sherlock Holmes Long Stories. Murray, London. p. 409. ISBN 0719503566. 
  2. ^ Gauss, Carl Friedrich (1809). Theoria motus corporum coelestium in sectionibus conicis solem ambientium. Friedrich Perthes and I.H. Besser, Hamburg, Germany. 
  3. ^ Donald Teets, Karen Whitehead, 1999, The Discovery of Ceres: How Gauss Became Famous, Mathematics Magazine, Vol. 72, No. 2 (Apr., 1999), pp. 83-93
  4. ^ Marsden, B. (1981) "Newcomb, Simon" in Gillespie, C.C. (ed.) (1981). Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 10. New York: 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, vol.103, no.1, p.30-34.
  6. ^ See, for example, the book by Kanigel, The Man Who Knew Infinity.
  7. ^ Wesson, P.S. (2002). "On higher-dimensional dynamics". Journal of Mathematical Physics (AIP) 43 (5): 2423. doi:10.1063/1.1462418. , Pre-print at
  8. ^ Lutz D. Schmadel, Dictionary of Minor Planet Names, International Astronomical Union. p. 434, background for name of asteroid (5048) Moriarty.
  9. ^ Mehlmann, A. (2000). The Game's Afoot!: Game Theory in Myth and Paradox. American Mathematical Society. ISBN 0821821210. 
  10. ^ Roberto de Andrade Martins. "Strategies for the Development of Databases - History of Science, Medicine and Technology. Bibliography of Primary Sources: Articles". 
  11. ^ "Article: Blast from the Past". 

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