Learn all about the Cornish Astronomer and mathematician John Couch Adams in our new spotlight exhibition.

This exhibition celebrates the life and work of John Couch Adams featuring his own telescope and a portrait of Adams that has recently been restored.

Explore the life of John Couch Adams and other Cornish astronomers through the work of artist Keith Sparrow, who has transformed their achievements into Manga cartoons , juxtaposing a modern art form with stories of great Cornish historical figures.

Who was John Couch Adams? 

John Couch Adams was born in 1819 on a farm in Laneast, near Launceston. From an early age he was fascinated by astronomy and by the age of 14 he was drawing his own star maps. He was also a brilliant mathematician and went on to study at Cambridge University.

His interest in maths and astronomy lead him to work on a problem that had baffled astronomers for decades. After the discovery of Uranus in 1781, astronomers noticed that the planet was being pulled slightly out of its normal orbit and wasn’t moving like the rest of the planets in the solar system.

Working for 2 years on the problem, John Couch Adams devised a mathematical model to predict that it was the gravity from another planet beyond Uranus that was affecting the planet’s orbit. His model also predicted this planet’s size and mass.

At the same time French astronomer, Urbain Le Verrier, was making similar calculations. All that was needed now was for each mathematician to find an astronomer with a telescope powerful enough to find this new planet, based on their calculations.

For Adams, this proved difficult but Le Verrier was able enlist the help of Johann Galle at the Berlin Observatory who, using Le Verrier’s calculations, was able to observe the planet in the sky for the first time in 1846. This new planet, later named Neptune, was the first to be discovered using mathematics.

Although Neptune was discovered using Le Verrier’s work, it was widely recognised by the astronomy community that the calculations carried out by Adams were also worthy of accolade. Both Adams and Le Verrier were awarded the Copely Medal by the Royal Astronomical Society in 1848 for the co-discovery of the planet Neptune.


Artist Keith Sparrow

For those unfamiliar with the art of Manga, it can best be described as comics and illustrated stories usually produced in Japan by Japanese artists. Due to it’s huge increase in global popularity among young people (and younger adults sometimes described as the ‘Nintendo’ generation), manga-style stories and artwork are also created increasingly in
other countries, including the UK. As a lifelong comics fan who grew up primarily on Marvel and DC Comics, I first became aware of manga when a UK magazine serialized the amazing ‘Akira’. I then saw ‘Jin Roh’, my first Anime (animated manga) at an animation festival, and I was hooked. Manga has a much slower pace than either American
superhero comics or British comics…it focuses much more on internal emotional struggles. It also covers a bewildering array of subject matter, from combat to romance, sports to office work, domestic drama to horror. There is a kind of recognisable, generic ‘look’ to a lot of manga, but within that there are of course a multitude of individual artists all with their own unique styles and techniques.

I was approached by a publisher a few years ago if I would draw and write a ‘how to’ book on drawing manga, and several titles later I began doing workshops, which has become a large part of my work now. I run regular workshops and drawing sessions, in Cornwall, Devon and London, and I find it inspiring and endlessly fascinating to see the ideas people of all ages come up with.

For a while i’ve been interested in producing ‘Cornish’ manga – stories based in or about Cornwall, either dealing with existing historical figures (such as John Couch Adams) or telling new stories by writers based here. Ultimately I just love the artform and love drawing and being inspired by other manga creators (mangaka). This exhibition includes a
short strip i did about John Couch Adams and the discovery of Neptune, as well as a series of pictures of famous Cornish astronomers, produced for Mayes Creative as part of an art project last year. I should mention it was Paul Drayton – then Musical Director of Duchy Opera – who originally suggested I look into Couch Adams. I’m embarrassed to admit I hadn’t heard of him then…which actually underlines the use of producing strips like this! I hope you enjoy the exhibition, and thanks go to the Royal Cornwall Museum for inviting me to display my artwork. Art is made to be experienced by other people after all!