Johann Elert Bode is the author of Bode's Law, one of the most contentious laws in astronomy. It's a ridiculous idea which juggles numbers, seemingly for no reason, and it ends up revealing the spacing of the planets in the solar system. Or does it?

No matter what you happen to think of Bode's Law, no one can deny that it fulfills one of the most important and long-lasting traditions in physics: It is not named after the person who actually created it. A gentleman (and presumably a scholar) by the name of Johan Titius first came up with it in the mid-1700s. Six years later, in 1772, Johan Bode published it, and it has born his own name since then. Then again, when you look at it, that might be a fitting punishment.

Bode's law is a simple series of calculations. First take a specific sequence of number: 0, 3, 6, 12, 24, . . . and so on. Except for zero and three, each number is double the last. Simple enough. Then add four to each number, getting 4, 7, 10, 16, 28, and upwards. Then divide by ten. The distance between the sun and the various planets is generally measured in Astronomical Units, which are arbitrary but act as a convenient shorthand when you don't always want to say umpteen million miles when describing distance. Each AU is the distance from the sun to the earth. Divide the sequence by ten and you get this:

0.4, 0.7, 1.0, 1.6, 2.8, 5.2, 10.0, 19.6, 38.8, and 77.2

These correspond remarkably with many of the planets (and Pluto) which orbit the sun. Back in the 1700s, when people didn't have so many planets to work with, Bode's Law only raised an eyebrow or two - until 1781, when Uranus was found hovering 19.2 AUs from the sun.