Astronomer. He is most remembered for locating and naming the planet Uranus. He was considered by many of his contemporaries as the leading scientist of his day and often compared to Sir Isaac Newton and France’s Pierre Laplace. The only child of astronomer Sir William Herschel and his wife Mary, he was mainly tutored at home under the guidance of his mother. He studied shortly at Eton College as a boy then St. John’s College and Cambridge, graduating in 1813 at the top of his class. The same year, he was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of London after publishing his papers on mathematics. His father wanted him to study for the Church, but he wanted to study law. After entering law school, he soon realized that was a mistake dropping out within months. Following his father’s footsteps as an astronomer, he named the seven moons of the planet Saturn and discovered the new planet Uranus, naming four moons around it. In 1820 Herschel became a founding member of the Royal Astronomical Society. He invented the “actinometer” in 1825 to measure the direct heating power of the sun's ray. Herschel was also a highly accomplished chemist. His discovery in 1819 of the solvent power of hyposulfite of soda on the otherwise insoluble salts of silver was the prelude to its use as a fixing agent in photography; in 1839, 1840 and 1842 he published papers on the “photography”, a word that he coined. Herschel’s 1831 book “Preliminary Discourse” became so popular that newspapers, magazines, journals, and pamphlets mined it for quotations, “becoming set-pieces to be learned by heart.” He published a dozen books on various subjects. Though many scientists of his today rejected his reasoning, his books supported the divine creation of the earth. He wrote many papers and articles, including entries on meteorology, physical geography and the telescope for the eighth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He also translated to English “The Iliad of Homer”. In 1831, he was knighted by King William IV. From 1833 until 1838, his astronomical investigations brought him and his family to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. While there, he and his wife produced 131 fine botanical illustrations with the help of his photography. Today, these are still recognized for their beauty and realism. For his last career change, he took a political position at the mint for short time before becoming unhappy with the daily routine task and leaving for health reasons. For the rest of his life, he labeled astronomy objects.
Bio by: Linda Davis