Universe Guide

Home / Facts

William Herschel, Sir

William Herschel was born Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel but that was changed to a Frederick William Herschel when he moved to England to become more accepted by the English. He had nine brothers and sisters ( including Caroline ) but four died very young.

William`s early career was as a soldier who had been sent to England where he left and became a music teacher. Herschel was able to play the violin, oboe and organ. Herschel`s music pieces are largely forgotten, overshadowed by his astronomical work. One thing lead to another, William`s interest in music lead to mathematics then onto astronomy. Herschel`s set about building telescopes with the aid of Nevil Maskelyne who was the fifth English Astromer Royal.

On 13th March 1781, William Herschel discovered Uranus moving across the sky. Herschel immediately named it Georgium Sidus (latin for Georges Star) after King George III. The French didn`t want any reference to the English Royal family, and called it Herschel. It was in 1823 that the name Uranus, named after the Ouranos, the God of the Sky became the accepted name for the planet. The name had been proposed by Johann Elert Bode, a German Astronomer. It was the first time a new planet had been discovered since the Ancient Greeks time. It led to people calculating and searching for other planets. The planet Neptune, although seen by Galileo but had been discarded was discovered after calculations of its existance had been made.

Herschel`s discovery did not go un-noticed, the King awarded him the Copley Medal, the highest medal that can be awarded for Scientific Discovery by the Royal Society. William was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and appointed the Kings Astronomer.

Heschel`s sister Caroline came to live with him and became an astronomer in her own right although slightly in the shadows of her brother. Caroline is mainly remember for her interest in the field of comets. Carloline stayed in England until he died then went back to Germany.

Later on in William`s studies, he discovered moons of Saturn and two moons of Uranus which were named Titania and Oberon only after his death.

Other discoveries included motion of the stars, that the solar system was moving in space, not just the planets. He studied the milky way and concluded its shape. He created a catalogue of space objects which would then become the basis of the New General Catalogue. He came up with the word asteroid coming from the greek asteroeides, aster "star" + -eidos "form, shape". He was also known for some silly observations namely that every planet had life including the sun where they lived in a protected shell.

In 1788, he married Mary Pitt and they had one son together John who would later become an astronomer himself.




Add a Comment


Name:
Email: (Optional)
Comment: