One Monday morning in July 1867, eminent French mathematician Michel Chasles stormed into the building of the French Academy of Sciences in Paris brandishing two letters and a couple of notes. The documents in his hands, Chasles proclaimed, contained enough evidence to prove that the true discoverer of the law of universal gravitation was not Isaac Newton but the French mathematician Blaise Pascal.
The letters that Chasles produced, one of them dated 1652, were written by Pascal to Anglo-Irish chemistry pioneer Robert Boyle, and included an early description of the law of gravitation. The accompanying notes contained calculations of the masses of the major planets, based on gravity and relative to the sun. The date on the letters was decades before Newton first described the same law in his Principia. It appeared that Isaac Newton was to be dispossessed of the glory he had been hitherto accorded.
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