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William Herschel is a composer and astronomer of British descent. Together with his sister, Caroline Herschel, he was able develop the New General Catalogue that is still used by astronomers today.
See the fact file below for more information on the William Herschel or alternatively, you can download our 23-page William Herschel worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- Frederick William Herschel was born on November 15, 1738 in Hanover, Germany.
- William was brought up as a musician like his father, who was an oboist in the Hanover Military Band. He also played in the military’s band.
- In 1757, he escaped to England after Hanover was occupied by the French.
- He initially earned money by copying music, and was able to become a music teacher, composer, and performer, therefore improving his position.
- In 1766, he was chosen to be the organist of the Octagon Chapel in Bath.
- In 1772, he fostered his sister Caroline, educated her, and trained her to be a singer, who in return did housework for him.
- In 1780, he became the director of the Bath orchestra, with Caroline often performing as soprano soloist. His brothers Alexander, Dietrich, and Jakob also became musicians in Bath.
- Apart from practicing music, he also studied the theories of music, reading Robert Smith’s Harmonics and the book A Compleat System of Opticks which presented to him the methods in constructing telescopes and made him interested in viewing the night sky.
- He also read Sir Isaac Newton’s principles and simplified it for those who had not studied mathematics and some of the books by William Emerson.
- William was more interested in studying distant celestial bodies instead of the nearby planets, the Moon, and the Sun.
- In order to do this, he needed powerful telescopes that were not available during his time. After taking lessons from a local mirror-builder, he gathered his own tools and started building his own reflecting telescopes.
- He grinded and polished speculum metal primary mirrors for up to 16 hours a day, with his siblings Caroline and Alexander helping him.
- He also built his own eyepieces that were the strongest in his time, having a magnifying power of 6,450 times.
- In May 1773, William started observing the night sky and in March 1, 1774, he started an astronomical journal writing remarks on the Great Orion Nebula and Saturn’s rings.
- He joined the Bath Philosophical Society upon the invitation of Sir William Watson.
- Herschel did two preliminary telescopic surveys of the heavens.
- In March 1781, he noticed a disk-like object in the night sky and initially thought it was a stellar disk or a comet.
- After many more observations, Anders Lexell found the object to probably be planetary based on his computations of its orbit.
- William later determined that it must be a planet beyond Saturn’s orbit, calling it the “Gregorian star.” The planet is now known as Uranus.
- He was awarded the Copley Medal for this discovery and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.
- William was also appointed as King George III’s astronomer in 1782, for which he received an annual stipend of £200 with the help of Watson.
- He then gave up his musical career to focus on astronomy and moved to near the Windsor Castle in Datchet.
- He also discovered many binary and multiple stars using a Newtonian telescope when they were still in Bath. He compiled these discoveries with careful measurements of the relative positions of the stars in two catalogues given to the Royal Society in 1782 and in 1784. The discoveries he made after 1873 were published in 1821 on a third catalogue.
- William was also able to solve a fundamental problem about nebulae using his big telescopes.
- In 1784 and 1785, he reasoned that all nebulae consisted of stars. He then postulated that the existence of what later were termed as “island universes” of stars.
- In 1785, he raised a cosmogony that stars that were originally scattered through infinite space were gradually organized by attractive forces into tightly packed and even more fragmented clusters.
- His investigations on nebulae gave evidence that they were not composed of a luminous fluid as astronomers had long believed.
- Whenever the weather and the Moon permitted, he would observe the sky with Caroline recording his observations.
- Caroline would often summarize their work’s results during the daytime, while William directed the making of telescopes. To supplement their income, he sold many of the telescopes they made.
- In 1789, he completed his largest telescope, measuring 48 inches in diameter and has a focal length of 40ft. It was one of the technical wonders of the century.
- Herschel also proposed that the shape of the Milky Way was a disk.
- Herschel also discovered two moons of Saturn, coining them as “asteroids.” Two moons of Uranus were also discovered by him, named by his son after his death.
DEATH AND LEGACY
- In 1788, he became a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
- The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences appointed him as their foreign member in 1813.
- In 1816, William was knighted by the Royal Guelphic Order by the Prince Regent.
- In 1820, he assisted in founding the Astronomical Society of London. It later on became the Royal Astronomical Society after receiving a royal charter in 1831.
- William succumbed to death after a long illness, on August 25, 1822. His epitaph has the inscription:
Coelorum perrupit claustra
(He broke through the barriers of the heavens)
- Herschel is buried at St Laurence’s Church in Upton, Slough.
- Most of Herschel’s life was spent in Slough, Buckinghamshire. Several memorials were erected for him in the town.
- Their former house in Bath, Somerset was turned into the Herschel Museum of Astronomy.
- The astrological symbol for Uranus is also dedicated to him.
- On May 14, 2009, the European Space Agency successfully launched the largest infrared space telescope and named it the Herschel Space Observatory.
- Many other astronomical objects, telescopes, and structures bear his name.
William Herschel Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about William Herschel across 23 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use William Herschel worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about William Herschel who is a composer and astronomer of British descent. Together with his sister, Caroline Herschel, he was able develop the New General Catalogue that is still used by astronomers today.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Musical Stars
- Star Family
- Book Match
- Word Hunter
- Space and Time
- Through the Lens
- House Tour
- Beautiful Dark Sky
- Celestial News
- Broken Barriers
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Link will appear as William Herschel Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, April 28, 2020
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