William Herschel

A German-born British Astronomer and Composer

Elizabeth Becker ~ Manakul Hour 3

Herschel's Childhood

Herschel was born in Hanover, Brunswick-Lüneburg on November 15, 1738. He was originally named Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel. William Herschel’s father worked for the German army, but was a talented musician. William played in the band for many years. Herchel's father sent him to seek refuge in England, where Herschel then became a music teacher and composer, following in his dad's footsteps.

Why Science?

Herschel was raised in a musical family. He joined his father in the band and played the oboe, making it seem as if he was going to be just another ordinary human being. Things changed for Herschel on On May 10, 1773. At age 35, William Herschel bought a copy of James Ferguson's book Astronomy and found interest in astronomy ever since. He soon acquired the skills to make his own telescopes and do his own research.

His Major Experiment/ How he Shaped History

William Herschel's greatest contribution to science was when he built his own telescope. His telescope was so powerful it had a magnifying power of 6,450 times. He then started studying the sky. During his third time fully observing the night sky, he discovered the planet Uranus. He also discovered Uranus's two moons, Titania and Oberon.

Herschel later studied the nature of nebulae. He discovered that all nebulae were formed of stars, which disproved the belief that nebulae were composed of a luminous fluid. Herschel discovered not only Uranus and it's two moons, but two moons of Saturn too. He figured out that the solar system is constantly flying at massive speeds through space and which direction it is moving in. Another suggestion he made was that the milky way is in the shape of a disk.

On December 7, 1781, William Herschel's friend William Watson presented a catalog that sparked an interest in clusters and nebulae. Before, Herschel had only observed four nebulae: The Orion Nebula, its companion M43, globular cluster M13 in Hercules, and the Andromeda "Nebula". He soon started investigating closer looks in astronomy. Herschel was interested "that several nebulae might yet remain undiscovered". He continued surveying the skies.


The discovery he made earned him the Copley Medal and a fellowship at the Royal Society of London.


Herschel started to examine the correlation of solar variation and solar cycle and climate. Hershel had observed sunspots and their variations in number, form and size over a period of 40 years. Most of his observations took place in a period of low solar activity, so solar activity behaved very unusually. This was one of the reasons why Herschel was not able to identify the standard 11-year period in solar activity.

When Herschel discovered two moons of Saturn: Mimas and Enceladus; as well as two moons of Uranus: Titania and Oberon. He did not give these moons their names. They were named by his son, John. Herschel.
Discovery of the electrmagnetic spectrum by Frederick William Herschel
Sir William Herschel -- "The King's Astronomer" | David Rives

Fun Facts

  • He was the first person to discover the existence of infrared radiation.
  • He invented a microscope that helped to see that coral had the characteristic of thin cell walls like animals, not like plants that had thick cell walls.
  • He constructed more than four hundred telescopes. The largest that he made was 49 1/2 inches in diameter for the primary mirror, and was 40 feet in focal length. It was a reflecting telescope.
  • The Herschel Museum of Astronomy is where he lived and made most of his telescopes.
  • He was well known for the twenty-four symphonies that he composed.

Why Herschel is the Most Influential Scientist in History

Herschel sparked many inspired scientists to learn more about astronomy. Without his telescopes, people may have never realized how large and great things are in the sky. He is the reason that we know so much about nebula's today. Without his observations, we might not have even had the chance to know about the rest of the planets in our solar system today. His work motivated many more people to understand the concept of the solar system.

He is so influential because his work is what led to the growth of the knowledge of astronomy. If he had never picked up his astronomy book, there is a chance that no one would have ever discovered what is out there. He not only discovered Uranus and it's two moons, but kept seeking more information after he already had been given fame. That is something to praise him for, because it shows that he really cared about the science and not just the publicity. Herschel's story has pushed many scientists to the point where they decide to keep researching a topic that may even seem useless at the time because he was such an inspiring scientist.


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