Herschel/SPIRE Infrared Astronomy Schools Ask an Astronomer Media
The Herschel space observatory borrows its name from Sir William Herschel, probably the most influential 18th century observer of the night sky. However, William was not the only one in his family who was captivated by the beauty of the stars. Astronomy was a family business for the Herschel’s:

The first of the Herschel family to devote himself to searching the heavens, William Herschel (1738 – 1822) was also the most successful. The son of a military musician in the small dukedom of Hannover, he was a talented and successful musician in his own right. He had already joined the army band in his teens. At the time Hannover was part of the British Empire, and during the Seven-Year War between France and England it was occupied by the French. In 1757 William and one of his brothers fled from the war, escaping to England. William stayed in England, and his brother returned to continental Europe.

William Frederick Herschel
©Dr. Joachim Reinhardt
Caroline Herschel
©University of Houston: Engines of Our Ingenuity
  As a professional musician he made a living conducting and playing the organ, finally securing a well-paying job as a church organist in Bath. In 1772 he paid a short visit to his hometown of Hannover, bringing his younger sister Caroline Herschel (1750 – 1848) to join him and his wife in Bath. Caroline was the fifth of six surviving siblings. Her parents planned her life, expecting her to be a caretaker in their home. Caroline received no formal education, and her chances of leaving home by way of marriage were minimal since she had suffered from typhus in childhood, stunting her height at only 4’ 3’’. When Caroline moved to Bath, William had to pay for a maid to take care of his parents’ place. The congenial brother-sister team worked together in many ways. They made music together (Caroline was a talented singer), and they became one of the best astronomers of their time. Their brother Alexander visited periodically, and supported his siblings astronomical interests by helping them build the support frames for their large telescopes. Together, William and Caroline developed an enduring passion for sky-gazing. With considerable effort including hours of painfully tedious polishing of mirror surfaces, they built a very good telescope for their backyard from scratch, and looked at the sky night after night.

Herschel / SPIRE

Quick Site Navigation

Site Map Contact Credits Guest Book Resources