Georgian Star (Great Discoveries Series)

Overview

Responsible for the greatest advances in astronomy since Copernicus, William and Caroline Herschel forever transformed our view of the heavens.
Trained as a musician, amateur scientist William Herschel found international fame after discovering the planet Uranus in 1781. Though he is still best known for this finding, his partnership with his sister Caroline yielded groundbreaking work, including techniques that remain in use today. The duo pioneered comprehensive surveys of the...

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Overview

Responsible for the greatest advances in astronomy since Copernicus, William and Caroline Herschel forever transformed our view of the heavens.
Trained as a musician, amateur scientist William Herschel found international fame after discovering the planet Uranus in 1781. Though he is still best known for this finding, his partnership with his sister Caroline yielded groundbreaking work, including techniques that remain in use today. The duo pioneered comprehensive surveys of the night sky, carefully categorizing every visible object in the void. Caroline wrote an influential catalogue of nebulae, and William discovered infrared radiation. Celebrated science writer Michael Lemonick guides readers through the depths of the solar system and into his protagonists' private lives: William developed bizarre theories about inhabitants of the sun; he procured an unheard-of salary for Caroline even while haggling with King George III over the funding for an enormous, forty-foot telescope; the siblings feuded over William's marriage and eventually reconciled. Erudite and accessible, The Georgian Star is a lively portrait of the pair who invented modern astronomy.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Former Time magazine science writer Lemonick provides an entertaining and illuminating look at a pathbreaking astronomical partnership. When William Herschel, in 1781, discovered Uranus (which he named the Georgian Star in hopes of getting much-needed funding from King George), he was a self-taught amateur astronomer earning his living as a musician. When the king offered Herschel £200 per year-a 50% drop in income-the astronomer gladly accepted the chance to become the king's astronomer. His goal was to discover how the universe was constructed, and Herschel, an obsessive observer, made a remarkable number of discoveries, including infrared radiation. He also taught his sister Caroline to help with his work, and soon she was publishing her own discoveries, hunting comets and cataloguing thousands of stars and nebulae. When the king agreed to give her a salary, she became the first paid woman scientist. Lemonick (Echo of the Big Bang) paints a vibrant and revealing picture of these two scientists whose painstaking observation and cataloguing paved the way for modern astronomy. 9 illus. (Nov.)

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Kirkus Reviews

Richly detailed biography of the man who discovered the planet Uranus and partnered with his sister to lay the foundations of modern astronomy.

Son of a German musician, William Herschel (1738–1822) emigrated to England as a young man, eventually finding steady employment in the upscale resort city of Bath. A workaholic who supported his huge family by teaching, performing and conducting, he never lost his fascination with mathematics and astronomy. He and Caroline, his favorite sister, pored over books, constructed their own technically superior telescopes and examined the sky for decades beginning in the 1770s. Since the dawn of history, everyone had taken it for granted that there were seven planets, so William's accidental discovery of an eighth in 1781 came as a bombshell, gaining him worldwide celebrity and a lifetime pension from George III that enabled him to pursue astronomy full time. William never considered finding Uranus his most significant feat, and veteran science writer Lemonick (Echo of the Big Bang, 2003, etc.) agrees, making a case that the Herschel siblings' contributions were more fundamental than that. Unlike previous observers who rarely thought deeply about their findings, William examined the sky systematically, kept precise records and then theorized on what he had found. He calculated the sun's movement across the galaxy and speculated, sometimes with great prescience, on the nature of the cosmos and stars, as well as the innumerable nebulae, clusters, clouds and new objects he had catalogued. Caroline at first filled the traditional female role as her brother's assistant and housekeeper, but soon became a skilled observer who worked alone. Readerswill share the author's admiration of how much the pair accomplished with the primitive technology at their disposal and will have no trouble navigating Lemonick's lively prose and lucid explanations of astronomical phenomena.

A rewarding account of two scientists who not only made great discoveries but enjoyed world recognition during their long, eventful lives.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393065749
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/17/2008
  • Series: Great Discoveries
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 8.20 (w) x 5.68 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

A former senior science writer at Time, Michael Lemonick is the author of several books, including Echo of the Big Bang. He teaches at Princeton, Columbia, and Johns Hopkins Universities, and lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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