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Topic section: The man who found a planet
The man who found a planet
A military musician, William Herschel fled his native Hanover shortly before the arrival of an invading French army. Setting up home in England, Herschel continued to make his living as a
Picture: 10307472s2embed.jpg
William Herschel, the famous astronomer, made this telescope in the 1780s for his lifelong friend Dr William Watson, who he first met in Bath.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
 musician while indulging his true passion, which was astronomy.

Herschel’s interest in astronomy had developed as a result of reading James Ferguson’s Astronomy Explained. Unlike his contemporaries, Herschel was not content me
The world’s most famous astronomer
rely to observe the movements of the Sun, the Moon and the known planets, but desired instead to see beyond to the more distant celestial bodies. This, of course, required a telescope that was superior to anything then available but after many attempts he succeeded in building one. Armed with this magnificent instrument, Herschel began to survey the night sky and during 1781 his systematic approach revealed an object that was later identified as the planet Uranus, the first planet to be discovered since pre-historic times.

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This daguerreotype photograph of an engraving by James Godby shows the famous astronomer William Herschel in old age.
Credit: NMPFT
In 1782 he was awarded a pension of £200 per annum in recognition of his achievement. This allowed him to abandon his musical career and become, at the age of 43, the world’s first professional astronomer. His further studies of the night sky revealed that some distant nebulae were not, as many had thought, pockets of luminous fluid but were in fact collections of stars which we now know to be galaxies.

Herschel’s contribution to our understanding of the night sky continues to be celebrated, most recently with the ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory, which is due to be launched in February 2007 and which will be used to study the origins of stars and galaxies.
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Topic section: The maharaja’s marble masterpiece
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Concerned about existing astronomical tables, the Maharaja Sawa Jai Singh II built a large observatory at Jaipur in India in 1724 and India has maintained the Asian tradition of watching the heavens with Astrosat, India’s first major astronomical satellite, planned for 2005–6.  > more

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Topic section: A star of astronomy
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Patrick Moore is famous as the presenter of the long-running The Sky at Night programme. With his permanently raised eyebrow and evident enthusiasm for the night sky, Moore has become the face of popular astronomy in Britain.  > more

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Topic section: The big eye of Parsonstown
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The Earl of Rosse constructed what was then the world’s largest reflecting telescope in 1846 at his family seat of Parsonstown (now Birr) in Ireland. The original Rosse mirror is on display in the Science Museum.  > more
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