A Day in Astronomy: The Discovery of Uranus

Source/Credit: Image of Uranus taken by Voyager 2 in 1986 (NASA).

On this day in 1781, astronomer Frederick William Herschel noticed a new object in the constellation of Gemini. With further study, he found he had discovered a new planet in our solar system – Uranus. Following his discovery, King George III appointed him Court Astronomer (yes, that King George who did not get many kind words from the embattled colonists on the other side of the pond).

While Frederick William Herschel is credited with numerous astronomical findings (including finding a number of moons, such as Saturn’s Enceladus, and discovering infrared radiation), he was also an accomplished musician. He played the oboe, violin, harpsichord and organ, and composed 24 symphonies as well as concertos, sonatas, and more. You can hear one of his symphonies here.

He was also a man with strong views about life beyond the Earth, including believing the Moon and the planets were populated with intelligent life (stating the surface of the Moon was similar to the English countryside) and speculating that the interior of the sun was heavy populated. Of course, he was a bit off the mark, but I expect he would be fascinated with the discovery of other planets and moons around the galaxy.

Extra: Frederick William Herschel’s sister Caroline assisted him with his work and also became an astronomer herself. For instance, she discovered a companion galaxy to the Andromeda Galaxy, M110 (NGC 205). She also discovered 14 nebulae and 8 comets. For her work cataloging stars, she was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society. She also became an Honorary Member of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1835.