Knights Tale

Throughout his productive life, Hershel compiled and published numerous papers, ranging from the first discovery of Uranus in 1781 to an 1821 catalog of 145 double stars. In 1816, the prince of Wales, George IV, knighted Herschel, and in 1820 the Royal Astronomical Society was founded, of which Herschel was appointed president in 1821.

During his time, Herschel was a leader in his field. The achievements of other astronomers paled in comparison, since by no other means in the history of the Earth had a human being served as witness to the secrets harbored in such far reaches of the heavens. Not only had he discovered the first new planet since ancient history, Herschel could proudly claim that he had looked farther into the universe than any before him. With his improved telescope, he made pioneering observations and contributed irrefutable new data to human understanding of the universe. On August 25, 1822, Herschel died in his home on Windsor Road (known as Observatory House) in Slough, England.

Before he died, Sir William Herschel's pioneering achievements of observation and measurement significantly advanced the science of astronomy and made him the most skilled astronomer of 18 th-century Europe.



Born on November 15 in Hanover, Germany


Becomes a member of the Hanoverian Guard band


Escapes to England to avoid war


Takes a position in Bath, England, as an organist for the Octagon Chapel


First views the stars through a low-resolution telescope, igniting interest in developing better observational equipment


Builds his first telescope with optics and mirrors produced by his own hand


Discovers the Orion Nebula with his improved telescope and begins to map the heavens


Revolutionizes conception of the solar system by discovering a new planet, later named Uranus; becomes a member of the Royal Society


Appointed as royal astronomer; sister Caroline is named assistant astronomer


Concludes that many double stars are actually binary stars, which adds direct support to Newton's universal law of gravitation


Sister Caroline discovers a new comet


Finishes construction on his famous 40-foot (12.2 m) telescope

1792 John Frederick William Herschel, Herschel's son and future astronomer, is born

1800 Discovers infrared light

1802 Finishes a star catalog of more than 2,514 nebulae

1816 Knighted by George IV, prince of Wales

1822 Dies on August 25 in Slough, England


Asimov, Isaac. Eyes on the Universe: A History of the Telescope. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975. A thoroughly researched book from a popular author about the impact of telescopes, including chapters on Sir William Herschel and his discoveries.

Crawford, Deborah. The King's Astronomer: Sir William Herschel. New York: Messner, 2000. A book on Sir William Herschel told in dramatic style that keeps the reader's attention.

Hammond, D. B. Stories of Scientific Discovery. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1969. Includes an excellent chapter on Sir William Herschel, plus other entries that further acquaint the reader with the history of astronomy.

Herrmann, Dieter B.; Kevin Krisciunas, translator. The History of Astronomy from Herschel to Hertzsprung (Geschichte der astronomie von Herschel bis Hertzsprung). New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984. Outlines the history of astronomy, detailing influences of Sir William Herschel and other astronomers on the development of astronomy as a science.

Web Sites

Arnett, Bill. "William Herschel's Catalog of Deep Sky Objects." Available online. URL: herschel.html. Accessed November 25, 2004. A wonderful Web page dedicated entirely to William Herschel and his accomplishments, including links to a complete Herschel directory, biographies, and Astronomical League material.

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