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Sir William Herschel
Original name: Gulielmus Herschel
Birth: Nov. 15, 1738
Hanover
Hannoversche Landkreis
Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen), Germany
Death: Aug. 25, 1822
Slough
Berkshire, England


Musician, Composer, and Astronomer. The discoverer of the planet Uranus and two of its moons along with two of Saturn's moons, he pioneered the use of astronomical spectrophotometry as a diagnostic tool, using prisms and temperature measuring equipment to measure the wavelength distribution of stellar spectra. Born Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel, he was one of 10 children of a Lutheran family. His father was an oboist in the Hanover Military Band and he initially pursued a musical profession, playing the oboe, violin, harpsichord, and organ. He composed numerous musical works, including 24 symphonies and many concertos, as well as some church music. In 1755 the Hanoverian Guards regiment, in whose band he was oboist, was ordered to England. He was a quick student of the English language and in England he went by the English rendition of his name, Frederick William Herschel. In 1761 he moved to Sunderland, England when Charles Avison immediately engaged him as first violin and soloist for his Newcastle orchestra, where he played for one season. He then moved to Leeds and Halifax where he was the first organist at St John the Baptist church (now Halifax Minster) and in 1766 later he became organist of the Octagon Chapel, in Bath and was also Director of Public Concerts. His music led him to an interest in mathematics and lenses and his interest in astronomy grew stronger after he made the acquaintance of the English Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne. He started building his own reflecting telescopes, spending hours grinding and polishing the speculum metal primary mirrors. In May 1773 he began to look at the planets and the stars and on March 1, 1774 he started an astronomical journal by noting his observations of Saturn's rings and the Great Orion Nebula. After constructing his first large telescope in 1774, he spent nine years carrying out thorough sky surveys, where his purpose was the investigation of double stars. The resolving power of his telescopes revealed that the nebulae in the Messier catalogue were clusters of stars. In the course of an observation on 13 March 1781 he realized that one celestial body he had observed was not a star, but a planet, Uranus. This was the first planet to be discovered since antiquity and he became famous overnight. As a result of this discovery, King George III appointed him as Court Astronomer. On January 11, 1787 he discovered two moons of the Planet Uranus (named Oberon and Titania later by his son John). During his career he constructed more than 400 telescopes. The largest and most famous of these was a reflecting telescope with a 49 1⁄2-inch-diameter primary mirror and a 40-foot focal length. Because of the poor reflectivity of the speculum mirrors of that day, he eliminated the small diagonal mirror of a standard Newtonian reflector from his design and tilted his primary mirror so he could view the formed image directly. This design has come to be called the Herschelian telescope. On August 28, 1789, his first night of observation using this instrument, he discovered a new moon of Saturn (Enceladus). A second moon (Mimas) followed within the first month of observation (These moon were also later named by his son John.). The telescope proved very cumbersome, and most of his observations were done with a smaller 18.5-inch 20-foot-focal-length reflector. From 1779 until 1818 he regularly observed sunspots and their variations in number, form and size in order to examine the correlation of solar variation and solar cycle and climate. Most of his observations took place in a period of low solar activity, the Dalton minimum, when solar activity behaved very unusually. This was one of the reasons why he was not able to identify the standard 11-year period in solar activity. He compared his observations with the series of wheat prices published by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations. He published his discoveries as three catalogues, the "Catalogue of One Thousand New Nebulae and Clusters of Stars" (1786), the "Catalogue of a Second Thousand New Nebulae and Clusters of Stars" (1789) and the "Catalogue of 500 New Nebulae, nebulous Stars, planetary Nebulae, and Clusters of Stars; with Remarks on the Construction of the Heavens" (1802). His other solar observations include measuring the axial tilt of the planet Mars and discovered that the Martian ice caps, first observed by Giovanni Domenico Cassini (1666) and Christiaan Huygens (1672), changed size with the planet's seasons. 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 studied the structure of the Milky Way and concluded that it was in the shape of a disk. He incorrectly assumed the sun was in the center of the disc, a theory known as Galactocentrism, which was eventually corrected by the findings of American astronomer Harlow Shapley in 1918. He also coined the word "asteroid" (meaning star-like) in 1802, to describe the star-like appearance of the small moons of the giant planets and of the minor planets. By the 1850s 'asteroid' became a standard term for describing certain minor planets. He died at his residence, the Observatory House in Slough, England at the age of 83. His honors include the election as a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1788), election as a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (1813), and a Knight of the Royal Guelphic Order by the Prince Regent George IV (1816). In 1820 he founded the Astronomical Society of London (1820), which received a royal charter in 1831 and became the Royal Astronomical Society. He is the father of astronomer John Herschel. (bio by: William Bjornstad) 
 
Burial:
Westminster Abbey *
Westminster
City of Westminster
Greater London, England
Plot: Wesminster Abbey, London, England
GPS (lat/lon): 51.50008, -0.12923
*Memorial Site [?]
 
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Record added: Nov 23, 1999
Find A Grave Memorial# 7071
Sir William Herschel
Added by: M. A.
 
Sir William Herschel
Added by: Kieran Smith
 
Sir William Herschel
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Added by: Iola
 
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Thank you for your contributions to the field of astronomy. May you rest in peace.
- William Bjornstad
 Added: Nov. 18, 2014

- R I P
 Added: Nov. 15, 2014

- RacTx
 Added: May. 23, 2014
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