QUEBEC-RESEARCH-L ArchivesArchiver > QUEBEC-RESEARCH > 2004-11 > 1100525897
Subject: Excerpt Of History
Date: Mon, 15 Nov 2004 08:38:17 EST
Sir Wilhelm Friedrich Herschel (November 15, 1738 Hanover - August 25, 1822
Windsor) was a German-born astronomer and composer who became famous for
discovering the planet Uranus, and made many other astronomical discoveries.
Herschel was born as Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel in Hanover, Germany, one of
ten children (of which four died very young). He changed his name after
moving to England at age nineteen to pursue a career as a musician. At the time,
the crowns of England and Hanover were united under George II, and he had
learned English when he had been sent to England a year earlier as a musician in
the Hanoverian Guards regiment.
He became a successful music teacher and bandleader, played the organ and the
oboe, and composed numerous musical works, most of which are largely
forgotten today. He became Director of Public Concerts in Bath. His sister Caroline
also came to England and lived with him.
His interest in astronomy grew stronger after 1773, and he built some
telescopes and made the acquaintance of Nevil Maskelyne. He observed the Moon,
measuring the heights of lunar mountains, and also worked on a catalog of double
The turning point in his life was March 13, 1781, while residing at 19 New
King Street, Bath, when he discovered Uranus. This made him famous and enabled
him to turn to astronomy full-time. Naming the new planet Georgium Sidus in
honour of King George III also brought him favour (the name didn't stick).
That same year, Herschel was awarded the Copley Medal and was elected a Fellow
of the Royal Society. In 1782, he was appointed "The King’s Astronomer" and
he and his sister subsequently moved to Datchet (then in Buckinghamshire but
now in Berkshire) on August 1, 1782. He also continued his work as a telescope
maker, selling a number of them to other astronomers.
In 1783 he gave Caroline a telescope and she began to make astronomical
discoveries in her own right, particularly comets. Caroline also served as his
full-time assistant, taking notes while he observed at the telescope.
In June 1785, due to damp conditions, he and Caroline moved to Clay Hall in
Old Windsor, and on April 3, 1786, they moved to a new residence on Windsor
Road in Slough. William Herschel lived the rest of his life in this residence,
which came to be known as Observatory House. It is no longer standing, having
been demolished in 1963 to make way for a high-rise office building.
On May 7, 1788, he married the widow Mary Pitt (née Baldwin) at St Laurence's
Churc, Upton, near Slough. His sister Caroline then moved to separate
lodgings, but continued to work as his assistant.
On August 28, 1789, he erected his renowned 40ft (focal length), 48 in
aperture, telescope, discovering a new moon of Saturn on the very first night's
observation, and a second moon within the first month of observation. The 40ft
telescope proved very cumbersome, however, and most of his observations were
done with a smaller telescope of 20ft focal length.
William and Mary had one child, John, born at Observatory House on March 7,
1792. In 1816, William was knighted "Sir William Herschel" by the Prince
Regent. He helped to found the Astronomical Society of London in 1820, which in
1831 received a royal charter and became the Royal Astronomical Society.
On August 25, 1822, Herschel died at Observatory House and is buried at
nearby St Laurence's Church, Upton.
His son John Herschel also became a famous astronomer. One of William's
brothers, Alexander, also moved permanently to England, near Caroline and William
though not in the same household, but was not a scientist.
His house in Bath, where he made many telescopes and first observed Uranus,
is now home to the William Herschel Museum.
In his later career, Herschel discovered two satellites of Saturn, Mimas and
Enceladus; as well as two satellites of Uranus, Titania and Oberon. He did
not give these satellites their names; rather, they were named by his son John
in 1847 and 1852, respectively, well after his death.
He also worked on creating an extensive catalog of nebulas. He also continued
to work on double stars, and was the first to discover that most double
stars are not mere optical doubles as had been supposed previously, but are true
He also discovered infrared radiation (c.1800).
From studying the proper motion of stars, he was the first to realize that
the solar system is moving through space, and he determined the approximate
direction of that movement. He also studied the structure of the Milky Way and
concluded that it was in the shape of a disk.
He also coined the word "asteroid".
He was known for eccentric theory that the Sun was inhabited.
Herschel discovered infrared radiation by passing sunlight through a prism
and holding a thermometer just beyond the red end of the visible spectrum. The
thermometer indicated a temperature increase and this led to Herschel's
conclusion that there must be an invisible form of energy.
Named After Herschel
* Herschel crater on Mars.
* The enormous Herschel crater on Mimas.
* The William Herschel Telescope on La Palma.
* The Herschel space observatory, currently under development by the
European Space Agency. It will be the largest space telescope of its kind.