Herschel, William (1738–1822)



  • Astronomer born in Hanover, Germany but who lived most of his adult life in England. He worked as a musician until his discovery of Uranus in 1781 assured his fame and allowed him to take up astronomy full-time. He and his sister Caroline built the world’s largest telescopes. Herschel was one of history’s most prodigious observers of the skies, producing a listing of nebulae which dwarfs Messier’s, mapping out the broad outlines of the galaxy and establishing the Solar System’s direction of motion through space. He also discovered the two largest satellites of Uranus and observed infrared radiation in sunlight. His survey of the heavens was the most systematic undertaken up to that date. When congratulated on his luck in finding Uranus, he upbraided the speaker by saying that if he had not spotted in when he did because of other engagements, he would simply have found it the following evening.