William Herschel


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Herschel, William

 

(originally Friedrich Wilhelm). Born Nov. 15, 1738, in Hanover; died Aug. 25, 1822, at Slough, near London. British astronomer and optician. Member of the London Royal Society (from 1781) and honorary member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (1789).

The son of a regimental musician, Herschel was educated at home (music and languages). In 1757 he moved to England, where he became known as a musician, composer, and music teacher. Herschel, who studied astronomy on his own, made hundreds of mirrors for telescopes. Between 1786 and 1789 he built his largest, 40-ft (12-m) reflector with a mirror diameter of 122 cm, for the first time making effective use of a single-mirror scheme (Herschelian telescope). He began observations of the sky in 1773. Among his discoveries were the planet Uranus (Mar. 13, 1781), two satellites of Uranus (1787), their retrograde motion (1797), and two satellites of Saturn (1789); he also measured the period of rotation of Saturn and its rings (1790). He discovered the movement of the solar system through space. In the mid-1770’s he began a series of surveys of the stellar sky by his “scoop method” (counts of stars in selected areas). As a result, Herschel for the first time outlined the general form of our galaxy, estimating its dimensions and inferring that it was isolated in space as one of the stellar “islands” in the universe. Herschel interpreted the compact stellar condensations as actual clusters of stars. This work by Herschel marked the beginning of stellar statistics.

Herschel discovered the existence of binary stars (1803) and compiled three catalogs of double stars. One of his greatest contributions was the discovery of more than 2,500 new nebulas and star clusters (1786, 1789, and 1802). Herschel noted 182 double and multiple nebulas and guessed at the physical connection of their components. He ascertained for the first time (1784) a pattern of distribution of nebulas—their tendency to cluster in layers; the “stratum in Coma Berenices” that he singled out makes up a sizable part of the equatorial zone of the Vaucouleurs Supergalaxy (discovered in 1953). Herschel substantiated (1791) the existence of “true” nebulas—from rarefied self-luminous matter—and advanced the nebular stellar-cosmogonic hypothesis of the condensation of stars and their clusters from diffuse matter, developing it (1802 and 1811) into a conception of the evolution of cosmic matter. Herschel was one of the first to begin the study of the solar and stellar spectra and in 1800 discovered infrared rays in the solar spectrum.

Herschel was assisted in designing and making telescopes by his younger brother, Alexander, a talented mechanic; later he was assisted by his son, J. Herschel. Herschel received a great deal of help in his observations from his younger sister, Caroline Herschel (1750-1848), one of the few women astronomers.

WORKS

The Scientific Papers, vols. 1-2. London, 1912.

REFERENCES

Eremeeva, A. I. Vselennaia Gershelia. Moscow, 1966.
Eremeeva, A. I. Vydaiushchiesia astronomy mira. Moscow, 1966.
King, H. C. “Sir W. Herschel and the Discovery of Radiant Heat.” In Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 1955, vol. 65, no. 7.
Lovell, D. J. “Herschel’s Dilemma in the Interpretation of Thermal Radiation.” In Isis, 1968, vol. 59, no. 1, pp. 46-60.

A. I. EREMEEVA

References in periodicals archive ?
Observing the Coma Cluster, we can feel privileged to be sharing a unique moment with William Herschel and Heinrich d'Arrest.
The names of all seven of the then-known moons of Saturn--Mimas included--were proposed by William Herschel's polymath son John in his 1847 publication, Results of Astronomical Observations Made at the Cape of Good Hope.
Fundamental progress in astronomy had been made in 1780--1820 by William Herschel. His son John, hitherto known chiefly for his mathematical ability, was the rising star of scientific London.
William Herschel's remarkable career has drawn a number of biographers, including the outstanding historian of nineteenth century astronomy Agnes Clerke.
Designed to observe the sky at infrared wavelengths, it is named after leading astronomer Sir William Herschel, who discovered infrared light about 200 years ago.
FEAST OF PERPETUA 1792: Sir John Herschel, astronomer who first mapped the stars of the southern hemisphere, son of Uranus discoverer William Herschel, was born in Slough.
He takes us through the lives of Joseph Banks (Royal Society), William Herschel (astronomer, philosopher), Mungo Park (explorer), Humphry Davy (chemist), Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein), among others.
William Herschel (astronomer) and William Davy (chemist), all of whom showed that both science and literature shared one thing: wonder at the world in which they lived, a wonder captured in Joseph Wright's paintings.
Chair of the judges, Sir Tim Hunt, FRS, Cancer Research UK and Nobel laureate, said "This is a book about real heroes, scientists like Joseph Banks, Humphrey Davy and William Herschel, who changed our understanding of the world forever.
It's hard to believe that 209 years have passed by since the infrared spectrum was accidentally located by William Herschel who in 1800 called it 'Dark Heat' and the first thermal image produced as evaporagraph by his son John Herschel in 1840.
For something really unusual, visit the Museum of East Asian Art and the William Herschel Museum of astronomy.
1781 German-born British astronomer William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus.