The William Herschel Biography is all about music and Astronomy

The William Herschel Biography talks about Herschel being an accomplished musician who used his music as a stepping stone to his interest in both Astronomy and Mathematics.

William Herschel’s Background

The Herschel Biography begins on November 15, 1738 in Hanover, Germany. Born Wilhelm Fredrick Herschel, Herschel was one of ten children, four of whom died at a very young age. His father, Isaac Herschel, was a member of the Hanover Military Band.

The William Herschel Biography goes on to say that William and his brother Jacob would become members of the same band. At the time King George II ruled both Hanover and England. William and his brother Jacob were ordered to England. Herschel learned English very quickly and at the age of nineteen changed his name to Frederick William Herschel.

He went on to become a successful band leader and teacher. His many compositions have since been forgotten. His brothers Jacob, Dietrich, and Alexander were also well known musicians of. His sister Caroline also followed him to England, where she moved in with him and became his assistant.

William Herschel eventually met and married Mary Pitt(Baldwin). Caroline would then move to a place of her own, but continued on as his assistant.

William Herschel and Astronomy

His interest in music led him to Mathematics and Astronomy. He began to build and sell telescopes. It was then that he met Nevil Maskelyne, British royal astronomer.

The William Herschel Biography says that it was during this time that Herschel began observing the moon and making measurements of the heights of lunar mountains. He also began work on a catalog of double stars.

The turning point in William Herschel’s life came when he first observed a new planet. He named it Georium Sidis, Latin for “George’s Star”, in honor of King George III. It was also known as “Herschel” until it eventually became known as Uranus.

This discovery enabled him to pursue Astronomy full time. He continued building and selling telescopes to other astronomers.

After giving his sister Caroline her first telescope, she went on to become a noted astronomer in her own right. As his full time assistant, she continued taking notes for him while he studied the skies.

The William Herschel Biography goes on to say that during his lifetime, Herschel built over 400 telescopes. The most famous one was a reflecting telescope with a 40 ft length. The first time Herschel used it, he discovered the first moon of Saturn. Shortly afterwards, Herschel discovered a second moon. William Herschel named them Mimas and Enucleates. He went on to also discover two moons of Uranus. His son John went on to name them Titania and Oberon.

He worked on an extensive catalog of nebulae as well as continuing his work on double stars. He was the first to discover that most double stars weren’t optical doubles but true binary stars. This provided proof that Isaac Newton’s law of gravitation applied outside of the solar system.

The William Herschel Biography shows that through his study of the stars, Herschel was the first to realize the Milky Way moved through space and was also in the shape of a disk. He also coined the word asteroids from two Greek words meaning star and shape.

Herschel’s Discovery of Infrared Radiation

During an experiment to measure air temperature, William Herschel discovered infrared radiation. Herschel was passing sunlight through a prism and held a thermometer just below the red end of the visible spectrum. He was surprised to discover the temperature here was higher than the temperature of the spectrum. Continuing with the experiments, he concluded there must be a spectrum that was invisible to the naked eye.

The William Herschel Biography ends on August 25, 1822 at Observatory House, his home in Slough. His home in Bath would eventually become a museum named in his honor.

Named after Herschel :

  • Mu Cephei, also known as Herschel’s Garnet Star – two of the largest stars in the universe
  • Herschel – a small Moon crater
  • Herschel – a large basin on Mars
  • Herschel Crater – on Saturn’s moon, Mimas
  • 2000 Herschel – asteroid
  • William Herschel telescope – La Palma
  • Herschel Space Observatory – owned by the European Space Agency and will be the largest space telescope
  • Herschel Grammar School – Slough
  • Rue Herschel – a street in Paris, France
  • William Herschel Museum – Slough
  • Herschel Observatory – Santos, Brazil
  • Herschel School – a private girl’s school in Cape Town
  • Herschel – a small village in Saskatchewan, Canada

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