Earth, Our Environment - Class Notes
William Herschel - Musician/Astronomer

Without any prior indication of an interest or talent for science, one day an oboe player named Herschel began to purchase books and equipment for studying the skies. Soon he was building better telescopes than anyone, and using them to study the night sky. His early, careful work included the first identification of the planet Uranus.

With the opportunities that the discovery of Uranus brought him, Herschel began constructing a map of the heavens. To proceed with mapping he made three assumptions:

Each of these assumptions is wrong, but often to advance knowledge, we must make assumptions to complete work. Scientific assumptions may later be later proved incorrect, but that does not make the original work bad science. The point is that scientific research is not always correct and to do exciting, frontier science you often risk being incorrect.

During his work on the map, Herschel observed what we today call binary star systems where tow stars orbit each other. Through careful observation, Herschel showed that the motion of the binary stars was consistent with Newton's Law of Gravitation.

Herschel thus extended the range of science outside the solar system, all the way to other star systems.


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Prepared by: Charles J. Ammon
January 1997