George Darwin is the son of a famous father, which means that the fame of Charles Darwin overshadows George’s accomplishments. In other circumstances, it would have been George who brought recognition and honour to the Darwin name, for he was an accomplished mathematician and astronomer, and he formulated the fission theory of Moon formation.
One of the first attempts to explain the varying composition of the Earth and its Moon was George Darwin’s Fission Theory. George theorized the proto-Moon was flung from Earth’s crust by centrifugal force and the action of the solar tidal forces. However, this theory has been disproven as it would require too great an initial spin of the Earth, so fast that the Earth would disintegrate. It was a valid theory in its day, and was the starting point for further investigation into how the Earth/Moon double planet was formed.
George Darwin’s major fields of study were the three-body problem in the case of the orbits of the Sun-Earth-Moon system and the stability of rotating fluids. His interest in fluids was inspired by his interest Fission Theory. His conclusions that a pear-shaped rotating mass is stable are today thought to be incorrect. Despite the fact both his theories are probably incorrect, George Darwin was and is important in being the first to apply mathematical techniques to study the evolution of the Sun-Earth-Moon system.
On a side note, he is the father of the physicist, Charles Darwin (named for his illustrious grandfather), who was the father of George Pember Darwin. This great-grandson of the family patriarch marred the great-granddaughter of Thomas Huxley, ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’, the greatest supporter of the theory of evolution. This fulfils my storytelling twitch most satisfactorily.
George has a more active part to play in my Steampunk novel than his father because he is a vigorous twenty-six at the time of my setting. It doesn’t hurt that he was rather good-looking either. His brother Francis, the botanist, also has a role in the novel, but will be the topic of another blog post. In fact, three of Darwin’s sons went on to be scientists; intelligence, curiosity, and a hunger to know the truth was obviously a family trait. His daughter Henrietta (Etty) helped him with his research, and married another scholar and mathematician, Richard Litchfield.
Wouldn’t you have loved to attended those family gatherings? As a writer, I am inspired by the concept of a family of such genius.