German-born British Astronomer, Composer, and Telescope Builder. He was introduced to music early in life and played oboe in the Hanover Military Band as a child where his father was a musician. In 1757, his family moved to England and he began earning a living by teaching music. His first big break in music came in 1766 when he was appointed as organist to the Octagon Chapel in Bath. He composed a number of musical works, including 24 symphonies and several concertos. In 1772, his sister Caroline moved to England and worked on several musical projects with him. His interest in music eventually led him to discover mathematics and the science of optics. While reading Robert Smith’s Harmonics, he discovered Smith’s other works including A Compleat System of Opticks. It was during this time that he learned the techniques of telescope construction. His interest in astronomy took a turn when he met English Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne. He eventually started building his own telescopes and would spend many hours each day grinding and polishing mirrors. He also made his own eyepieces with a magnification power of over 6000 times. He used his telescopes to observe the planets and the stars. His home-built telescopes were known for their exceptional quality and in March of 1774, he began keeping an astronomical journal to record his findings. He continued to study the night sky and on March 13, 1781, he discovered a small object that appeared to be moving slowly across the sky. He initially thought the object was a comet, but further observation revealed he had discovered the planet Uranus at the outer reaches of the Solar System. It was the first planet to be discovered since prehistoric times. The discovery made him famous and earned him the respect of prestigious organizations. The Royal Society of London awarded him the Copley Medal for his discovery of Uranus and elected him a Fellow. He was also appointed as an astronomer to King George III and moved to Datchet, near Windsor Castle. He then decided to end his career in music and devote his time to astronomy. He continued his work as a telescope maker and achieved an international reputation for manufacturing quality instruments. He sold reflecting telescopes to customers in England and abroad. He was eventually elected a member of the prestigious Royal Society where he received a copy of Charles Messier's Catalog of Nebulae and Star Clusters that gave him a starting point for observing mysterious deep sky objects. In 1783, he started working on a sky survey and with his sister Caroline, where he used his telescopes to study small patches of the night sky. His high-quality instruments allowed him to examine nebulae with much more detail than Messier. He observed over 2400 new nebulae and star clusters and recorded them in The General Catalogue of Nebulae which was published in three volumes. The catalog was eventually enlarged and renamed the New General Catalogue. This catalog is still used and many deep sky objects are identified by their NGC numbers. Of the 7840 objects in the catalog today, over 4600 of them were discovered by him and his son. He made more than 400 telescopes and the largest and most famous of these was a reflecting telescope with a 49.5-inch diameter primary mirror and a 40-foot focal length. He also created a new telescope design by eliminating the small diagonal mirror of a standard reflector. His new design featured a tilted primary mirror that could be used to view an image directly. This design has come to be called the Herschelian telescope. His new telescope designs resulted in several new discoveries. In 1787, he discovered two moons around Uranus, Titania and Oberon. In 1789, using a larger telescope, he found Saturn's sixth and seventh moons, Enceladus and Mimas. He also measured the axial tilt of Mars and discovered that the Martian ice caps changed size depending on the planet's seasons. He continued to make new astronomical discoveries in his later years and studied the proper motion of stars, realizing that the Solar System is moving through space. He also studied the structure of our own Milky Way galaxy and determined that it was shaped like a disk. He was the first to use the word "asteroid" to describe the small bodies that are not planets. He discovered infrared radiation by passing light through a prism and measuring the temperature of the light just beyond the red end of the visible spectrum. He was made a Knight of the Royal Guelphic Order by the Prince Regent and was accorded the honorary title "Sir" in 1816. In 1820, he was elected vice president of the newly formed Royal Astronomical Society and a year later, he was elected president. His last published paper cataloged 145 double stars. He has received many posthumous honors over the years. Craters on the moon, Mars, and Mimas have been named after him. The asteroid 2000 Herschel bears his name, and the symbol for the planet Uranus features the capital letter H in his honor. His house at 19 New King Street in Bath, where he made his telescopes and discovered Uranus, is now home to the Herschel Museum of Astronomy.
Bio by: Glendora