This question is similar to What was the longest delay between prediction and confirmation of a theory? but I want to frame it in a different way. I am looking for long delays between prediction and discovery, that were predicted under the frame of the current theory. Here are some examples of what I mean by this:

Examples that fit the description:

  • Einstein prediction of gravitational waves in 1916 and discovery by LIGO in 2015. Many people suggested it before like Heaviside or Poincaré but under complete different classical theories.
  • Prediction of the Higgs boson 1964, discovery in 2012. Predicted under a new theory but clearly the right one as it is the current one in the Standard Model.
  • Prediction of planets. For example Neptune was predicted in 1846 using Newtonian mechanics, and found short after.

Examples that do not fit the description: Based on the previous question, here are some examples based on that question that are not what I am looking for

  • Atomism by Democritus in Ancient Greece and confirmed definitively in 1905. Clearly a good guess, but science had to break so many paradigms that his predictions have more to do with philosophy than science. Dalton is also not that great because chemistry models were to be refined many times after him (also quantum mechanics was weirder than anything imagined).
  • John Michell's prediction of black holes in 1783. Again a good guess based on classical mechanics but general relativity is more clearly suited.
  • Heliocentrism, it is not truly a prediction, it is more like we have data, we have two models, which is it?

So are there any predictions under the theory of the time or closely-suggested theory that took as long or more than the time between the prediction and detection of gravitational waves?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Science had to break so many paradigms" is too vague to be meaningful. What exactly distinguishes Pluto from black holes? "No additional theory was needed" to find black holes, under GR they do observationally just what Michell said they do, trap light. Similarly, "science broke paradigms" in between Einstein and 2015, with the cosmological constant and quantization of gravitational fields, among other things. This sounds like subjective parsing of continuous scientific developments. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Sep 26, 2023 at 4:01
  • $\begingroup$ Pluto was not predicted in 1848. I don't know here you got that idea. Neptune was predicted in the 1840s and discovered in 1846. Pluto was not predicted until about 1900 and it is now considered that the predictions were in error based on inaccurate data $\endgroup$ Sep 26, 2023 at 5:30
  • $\begingroup$ @M.A.Golding removing pluto $\endgroup$
    – Mauricio
    Sep 26, 2023 at 6:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Conifold It is an example, the point is that from atomism to atoms, you had to invent science, physics, alchemy, chemistry, statistical mechanics, and so on. Michell prediction is fine but under this question, the equivalent I am looking for would be Schwarzschild who predicted black holes using general relativity. It clear that you do not need quantization for detection of gravitational waves. $\endgroup$
    – Mauricio
    Sep 26, 2023 at 6:47
  • $\begingroup$ So if someone recalculates the prediction according to the updated theory (like Schwarzschild), even if it makes no observational difference, it resets the clock? On the other hand, LIGO detection was based on calculating gravitational waves coming from collision of two black holes, something that did make a difference and that Einstein never considered, but it still counts. What historical significance are such contrived "records" supposed to have? Btw, Taylor and Weisberg are often credited for confirming gravitational waves already back in 1982. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Sep 26, 2023 at 23:29

1 Answer 1


I'd consider European idea that the Southern Hemisphere had a large landmass near or around the South Pole, referred to as Terra Australis, as satisfying at least some of the OP's desirables. European maps were drawn with a southern continent by 1570, while the first (European) sighting of Antarctica was around 1820.

The Europeans had a "good" theory about balancing of land-mass in the Northern hemisphere "balanced" out in the southern hemisphere. From a certain point of view, if we add the age of the Earth and some general handwaving about diffusion of land-masses this might fit under plate tectonics - as continents break up and diffuse over the Earth it might make sense that the distribution of land mass between different hemispheres was more likely to be even. (Although while researching this answer I came across the "Land and water hemispheres").

So then again, this might be another example such a Pluto - Antarctica was "discovered" by Europeans based on a theory that was incomplete.


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