Discoverers of the Universe: William and Caroline Herschel

Princeton University Press
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Discoverers of the Universe tells the gripping story of William Herschel, the brilliant, fiercely ambitious, emotionally complex musician and composer who became court astronomer to Britain's King George III, and of William's sister, Caroline, who assisted him in his observations of the night sky and became an accomplished astronomer in her own right. Together, they transformed our view of the universe from the unchanging, mechanical creation of Newton's clockmaker god to the ever-evolving, incredibly dynamic cosmos that it truly is.

William was in his forties when his amateur observations using a homemade telescope led to his discovery of Uranus, and an invitation to King George's court. He coined the term "asteroid," discovered infrared radiation, was the first to realize that our solar system is moving through space, discovered 2,500 nebulae that form the basis of the catalog astronomers use today, and was unrivalled as a telescope builder. Caroline shared William's passion for astronomy, recording his observations during night watches and organizing his papers for publication. She was the first salaried woman astronomer in history, a pioneer who herself discovered nine comets and became a role model for women in the sciences.

Written by the world's premier expert on the Herschels, Discoverers of the Universe traces William and Caroline's many extraordinary contributions to astronomy, shedding new light on their productive but complicated relationship, and setting their scientific achievements in the context of their personal struggles, larger-than-life ambitions, bitter disappointments, and astonishing triumphs.

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About the author

Michael Hoskin is fellow of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, where he lectured in the history of astronomy from 1959 until his retirement in 1988, and founding editor of the Journal for the History of Astronomy. His books include The Herschel Partnership as Viewed by Caroline and The Cambridge Illustrated History of Astronomy.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jan 10, 2011
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Pages
256
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ISBN
9781400838127
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Science & Technology
Science / Astronomy
Science / History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Michael Hoskin
Astronomy, perhaps the first of the sciences, was already well developed by the time of Christ. Seventeen centuries later, after Newton showed that the movements of the planets could be explained in terms of gravitation, it became the paradigm for the mathematical sciences. In the nineteenth century the analysis of star-light allowed astrophysicists to determine both the chemical composition and the radial velocities of celestial bodies, while the development of photography enabled distant objects invisible to the human eye, to be studied and measured in comfort. Technical developments during and since the Second World War have greatly enlarged the scope of the science by permitting the study of radiation. This is a fascinating introduction to the history of Western astronomy, from prehistoric times to the origins of astrophysics in the mid-nineteenth century. Historical records are first found in Babylon and Egypt, and after two millennia the arithmetical astronomy of the Babylonians merged with the Greek geometrical approach to culminate in the Almagest of Ptolemy. This legacy was transmitted to the Latin West via Islam, and led to Copernicus's claim that the Earth is in motion. In justifying this Kepler converted astronomy into a branch of dynamics, leading to Newton's universal law of gravity. The book concludes with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century applications of Newton's law, and the first explorations of the universe of stars. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
Michael Hoskin
This beautifully structured book presents the essentials of William and Caroline Herschel’s pioneering achievements in late 18th-century astronomy. Michael Hoskin shows that William Herschel was the first observational cosmologist and one of the first observers to attack the sidereal universe beyond the solar system:Herschel built instruments far better than any being used at the royal observatory. Aided by his sister Caroline, he commenced a great systematic survey that led to his discovery of Uranus in 1781.Unlike observers before him, whose telescopes did not reveal them as astronomical objects, Herschel did not ignore misty patches of light. Hoskins points out Herschel’s achievement in surveying, cataloguing, and describing them as “nebulae” and even coming to the correct conclusion that their structure evolved over time, with Newton’s gravity being the agent of change. Herschel’s surveys established a new astronomy – looking at the universe rather than the planets! Michael Hoskin’s account includes sketches and diagrams from Herschel’s manuscripts in the Royal Astronomical Society Archives in which he attempts to delineate the structure of the Milky Way galaxy.

While it is well-known that Herschel was a revolutionary in telescope design who constructed the world’s largest telescopes, Hoskin also gives the full picture of the man as an entrepreneur who built and traded some 400 telescopes.

Hoskin also pays close attention to the role of William's sister Caroline Herschel, who is usually portrayed as a “helpmate” to her brother. But in fact she became a significant astronomer in her own right.

This book also offers a wealth of information of the wider Herschel family. It is enriched by a complete set of portraits of William and Caroline Herschel with an extensive set of images of their residences and closes with a charming appendix on how visitors to the Herschels recorded their encounters.

William and Caroline Herschel – Pioneers in Late 18th-Century Astronomy will appeal to amateur astronomers and all those interested in popular astronomy. This book will rapidly establish itself as the primary introductory work for students, astronomers, and scholars working on the history of natural science in the late 18th century.

Michael Hoskin
Astronomy, perhaps the first of the sciences, was already well developed by the time of Christ. Seventeen centuries later, after Newton showed that the movements of the planets could be explained in terms of gravitation, it became the paradigm for the mathematical sciences. In the nineteenth century the analysis of star-light allowed astrophysicists to determine both the chemical composition and the radial velocities of celestial bodies, while the development of photography enabled distant objects invisible to the human eye, to be studied and measured in comfort. Technical developments during and since the Second World War have greatly enlarged the scope of the science by permitting the study of radiation. This is a fascinating introduction to the history of Western astronomy, from prehistoric times to the origins of astrophysics in the mid-nineteenth century. Historical records are first found in Babylon and Egypt, and after two millennia the arithmetical astronomy of the Babylonians merged with the Greek geometrical approach to culminate in the Almagest of Ptolemy. This legacy was transmitted to the Latin West via Islam, and led to Copernicus's claim that the Earth is in motion. In justifying this Kepler converted astronomy into a branch of dynamics, leading to Newton's universal law of gravity. The book concludes with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century applications of Newton's law, and the first explorations of the universe of stars. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
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