Reference Work Entry

Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers

pp 705-706


Faye, Hervé

Born Saint Benoît-du-Sault, Orne, France, 1 October 1814

Died Paris, France, 4 July 1902

Hervé Faye, whose researches were largely theoretical in character, enunciated a model of the Sun and discussed the effects of solar radiation pressure on the motions of comets, arguing that this repulsive force was responsible for the tail phenomena. Faye was the son of a civil engineer, whose interest in astronomy developed a year or two after he entered the école Polytechnique in 1832. Four years later, he acquired a position at the Observatoire de Paris and worked under director Dominique Arago . Faye calculated the orbit of comet 4P/1843 W1, which he discovered telescopically on 22 November and for which he was awarded the Lalande Prize of the Académie des sciences. He also calculated the orbits of two other periodic comets. Thereafter, his career progressed in several directions.

From 1848 to 1854, Faye lectured on geodesy at the école Polytechnique and was appointed a full professor in 1873. He also held the professorship of astronomy at Nancy, and as rector of the academy there, served as general inspector of its secondary schools. Faye was president of the Bureau des longitudes for more than two decades. He was a delegate to the Astrographic Congress (1887).

In 1884, Faye published Sur l’origine des mondes (On the origin of worlds), a historical account of ancient and modern cosmogonies. Therein, he modified the nebular hypothesis of Pierre de Laplace , although few of his contemporaries accepted Faye’s notions. He undertook various geodetic projects at home and abroad and came close to proposing the modern concept of isostasy. Faye understood the relationship between comets and meteoroids, advocated photography in celestial observations, appreciated that refraction is a major source of error, and designed a zenith telescope.

Faye’s gaseous model of the Sun, in which he conceived of sunspots as openings displaying internal cyclonic motions, was widely adopted. Likewise, he studied terrestrial cyclones in this context. Finally, he played a leading role in the controversy surrounding the purported existence of the planet Vulcan. For his services to the French government, Faye was awarded the Grand Cross of the Légion d’honneur.

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