William Herschel and stellar astronomy

William Herschel and stellar astronomy

William Herschel was an astronomer with great skill, which allowed him to calculate, design and build his own telescopes. He discovered the planet Uranus and many other celestial objects.

Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel He was born in Hannover, Germany, on November 15, 1738, but he lived most of his life in England.

He studied music, a profession in which he succeeded working in various orchestras. He was a professor and organist at the Octagon church in Bath, England, composed and gave many concerts. His free time, however, was devoted to the study of mathematics, languages ​​and philosophy. At age 35 he began to be interested in astronomy.

By 1773, Herschel built a telescope and began his research work. He began with the observation of double stars in search of their parallax, in this way he discovered that binary stars move around each other around a common center. He observed about 1000 double stars and made his first catalog.

On March 13, 1781, he made a historic discovery, with an 18 cm telescope opening: the Uranus planet. This discovery led him to international fame and to win the favor of King George III, who appointed him a knight of the court and became "Astronomer of the king", a position that allowed him to devote himself totally to astronomy.

Another important discovery made by Herschel was the movement of the sun in space. Taking as reference the thirteen star movement, he found that the Sun moves with respect to its stellar neighbors to a point located in the constellation of Hercules, near the star Vega. He also made observations of sunspots and confirmed the gaseous nature of the sun.

William Herschel installed a telescope in Slough (Berkshire) with a mirror of 1.22 m and a focal length of 12.2 m. With this telescope he discovered two satellites of Uranus and the sixth and seventh satellites of Saturn. He concluded that the Milky Way has a thicker disk shape in its center and placed the sun near the center of the disk. He also analyzed the nebulae, providing new information on their constitution and increasing the number of nebulae observed from approximately 100 to 2,500. Herschel was the first to formulate that these nebulae were composed of stars.

His biggest project was to study the structure of the Milky Way. He made a star count in the field of view of his telescope. When the project ended, 20 years later, he had counted more than 90,000 stars in 2400 sample areas. During these observations he discovered many interesting objects such as clusters, nebulas, variable stars and double stars.

Years later, in 1864, his son John made observations of the southern hemisphere and collected a large number of celestial objects gathering them on a single base with the discoveries of Father Herschel, and published it under the title: "The General Catalog of Nebulae." In 1888 this catalog was reviewed by L. E. Dreyer, who added several other objects, publishing the famous "New General Catalog" (NGC).

William Herschel was elected a member of the Royal Society in 1781 and appointed Sir in 1816. He is considered the founder of stellar astronomy. He died on August 25, 1822 in Slough, England.

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