Sir William Herschel

(1738–1822)

Sir William Herschel

Anecdote...

As news of Herschel’s discoveries became known in the 1780s, what most caught the popular imagination was that the astronomer’s powerful new telescopes revealed stars to be circular objects instead of the rayed or spiky shapes that they appeared to the naked eye. At a dinner Herschel was placed next to the great physicist Henry Cavendish. Conversation between these two scientific giants did not fourish, no doubt mainly on account of Cavendish’s notorious awkwardness in public. At length Cavendish leaned forward. “Is it true, Dr. Herschel, that you see the stars round?” he asked, very slowly. “Round as a button,” replied Herschel. Cavendish lapsed into a silence that lasted until the end of the meal. Then he leaned forward again. “Round as a button?” he asked. “Round as a button,” affirmed Herschel.

Biographical Note: 

Sir William Herschel was a British astronomer, born in Germany. Herschel went to England (1757) as a musician and became a leading figure in the musical world at the fashionable resort of Bath. His real interest, however, lay in astronomy, a field in which he was entirely self-educated. Finding contemporary telescopes inadequate, he constructed his own, with the aid of his sister, Caroline.

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