Posted on Monday, June 02, 2014
By Kadri

William and Caroline Herschel:Pioneers in Late 18th-Century Astronomy by Michael Hoskin

William Herschel is most popularly known as the person who discovered the planet Uranus, however his life and work was a lot more interesting than just discovering a new planet.

William Herschel was born in Hanover in 1738 and later moved to Great Britain, where he worked as a composer before becoming interested in astronomy and instrument making. He was quite an extraordinary astronomer succeeding both at observing and making new discoveries as well as producing hundreds of telescopes for sale.

William Herschel's telescopes were reflectors, although he started grinding ever bigger mirrors, Herschel's 7-foot reflectors were among the most popular ones he made – the focal length of the telescope was about 2.1 meters and the mirror 16 cm across and of Newtonian type, they seem as if they would have been comfortable to use, and one of these telescopes was the one that Herschel used when he discovered Uranus.

His discovery of Uranus might be the most famous, but he spent lot of time and effort on scanning the whole sky with his ever greater telescopes, searching for comets, binary stars and nebulae.

Next to William Herschel was his sister Caroline, who worked as his assistant, marking down and organizing his observations, who can be considered one of the first female astronomers, as she did observations of her own, and discovered several comets, and eventually she was also payed for assisting her famous brother.

This book was published in the SpringerBrifes in Astronomy series and hence is only slightly more than a hundred pages long, but it gives an interesting account of both William and Caroline's life, work and discoveries.

For those who want to read even more about the Herschels, Michael Hoskin has also written Discoverers of the Universe: William and Caroline Herschel, that goes into their lives in more depth, but all the essentials are already in William and Caroline Herschel:Pioneers in Late 18th-Century Astronomy, and the books are complementary – you wouldn't get bored reading one if you've already read the other one.

Hoskin's writing is very enjoyable and his portrayal of the lives of the Herschels fascinating.

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