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Herschel

Herschel (hûr´shəl), family of distinguished English astronomers.

Sir William Herschel

Sir William Herschel, 1738–1822, born Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel, was a great pioneer in astronomy. Born in Hanover, Germany, the son of a musician, he early became a skilled performer on several instruments. He went to England in 1757 and worked as a musical conductor, organist, and teacher of music and studied mathematics and astronomy in his leisure time. He constructed telescopes and systematically explored the sky. On Mar. 13, 1781, he discovered a new planet later named Uranus. Because of this discovery he was appointed private astronomer to the king (1782), and was then able to devote his time to astronomy.

In 1789 at his home in Slough, Herschel erected his great telescope, with a 48-in. (122 cm) mirror and a focal length of 40 ft (12.2 m). Sir William discovered the sixth and seventh satellites of Saturn, determined the rotation period of Saturn, and studied the rotation of other planets. He concluded from the motions of double stars that they are held together by gravitation and that they revolve around a common center, thus confirming the universal nature of Newton's theory of gravitation. He cataloged over 800 double stars. His research in the field of nebulae suggested a possible beginning of new worlds from gaseous matter. Before this time only about 100 nebulae had been known; Sir William's catalog contained about 2,500. He concluded that the whole solar system is moving through space, and he was able to indicate the point toward which he believed it to be moving.

Bibliography

See biographies by J. B. Sidgwick (1955), A. Armitage (1962), and D. Crawford (1968); biography of William and Caroline by M. Hoskin (2011); study by M. A. Hoskin (1963).



Caroline Lucretia Herschel

Sir William's sister, Caroline Lucretia Herschel, 1750–1848, discovered eight comets and three nebulae and from 1772 collaborated with her brother. She revised (1798) John Flamsteed's catalog of stars and arranged her brother's catalog of star clusters and nebulae, for which she received the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1828.

Bibliography

See her autobiographies ed. by M. Hoskin (2003); M. C. Herschel, Memoirs and Correspondence of Caroline Herschel (1876).



Sir John Frederick William Herschel

Sir William's son, Sir John Frederick William Herschel, 1792–1871, first distinguished himself as a mathematician at Cambridge but later turned to astronomy. He confirmed his father's observations of double stars, was able to add numbers of previously unrecognized pairs to those in the catalog, and extended his examination to include nebulae. He presented his results to the Royal Society in the form of a catalog of stars in 1833. In order to complete the survey of the heavens, he went to the Cape of Good Hope in 1834 and discovered and measured many previously unseen nebulae and clusters of stars in the southern sky.

Among his books are Outlines of Astronomy (1849) and A General Catalogue of Nebulas (1864). The latter was revised by Johan Dreyer as A New General Catalogue of Nebulas and Clusters of Stars (1888), and, generally known as the NGC (see New General Catalog), it still serves as a standard reference source. Sir John also made contributions to the field of photography. He was the first to use sodium thiosulfate (hypo) as a fixing agent, and he introduced the terms "positive image" and "negative image."

Bibliography

See his diaries and correspondence, Herschel at the Cape, ed. by D. S. Evans et al. (1969); biography by G. Buttman (tr. 1970); J. F. Herschel and S. S. Silvan, Aspects of the Life and Thought of Sir John Frederick Herschel (1981); B. and N. Warner, Maclear and Herschel (1984).

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Herschel

Herschel

a family of distinguished scientists of German origin, established in England in 1757. Its most notable members, on whom separate articles follow, were William Herschel (1738–1822), his sister Caroline Lucretia Herschel (1750– 1845), and his only son, John Frederick William Herschel (1792–1871).

The earliest known German forebear of the family was a Hans Herschel of Dresden. His son, Abraham, was the father of Isaac Herschel, the father of Caroline and William. Isaac married Anna Ilse Moritzen and they had ten children, six of whom survived. Isaac, a sometime gardener, was an oboist with the Hanoverian Foot Guards, and he gave his children a sound education at the garrison school. He educated them in music himself. He was a man of surprisingly cultivated conversation. The other children included Sophia (Griesbach), Jacob, Alexander, and Dietrich. Dietrich’s daughters married into the Knipping, Richter, and Groskopff families, names which thereafter frequently occur in-the Herschel family correspondence.

In 1757 William Herschel, also an oboist in a military band, took refuge in England following the defeat of the Hanoverian forces at Hastenbeck. He continued his musical career, eventually becoming an organist and the leader of an orchestra at the fashionable resort of Bath. While there he became interested in optics and astronomy and began to manufacture reflecting telescopes; for which he enlisted the aid of his brother Alexander and, more importantly, his sister Caroline, both of whom followed him to England. His sensational discovery of the planet Uranus in 1781 brought him recognition and a royal pension, later supplemented by a stipend for Caroline Herschel’s services. This enabled him to devote himself to astronomy and especially to the study of star clusters, nebulae, and binary stars.

For her own part, Caroline Herschel independently discovered eight comets and three nebulae in the course of patiently and devotedly assisting her brother. She further fostered the scientific interests of her nephew, John Herschel, who enjoyed a diversified (he was a physicist and chemist as well as an astronomer) and profitable career. John Herschel traveled extensively and worked closely with both the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society; he is particularly remembered for his studies and cataloging of the southern skies.

The central position that the Herschels held in British astronomy was consolidated through the work of John Herschel’s sons and through the marriage of his daughters into the Maclear and Waterfield families, and finally by the work of one of his grandsons, the Reverend John Charles William Herschel. Their influence thus extended for over a century. Both William and John Herschel were Knights of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order and in 1838 Queen Victoria granted John the hereditary title of baronet. The title is now extinct, and although John Herschel had twelve children, the family name today survives in England in the person of a single descendant, Miss Caroline Herschel. The badge of the Royal Astronomical Society includes a depiction of the reflecting telescope of forty-eight-inch diameter and forty-foot focal length that was built at Slough, with aid from the royal purse, under William Herschel’s direction.

The Herschel family lived at Windsor, Datchet, and finally at Slough. A family home with much interesting Herscheliana is at Warfield, Bracknell, Berkshire.

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Herschel

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