William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus in 1781 while living at 19 New King Street Bath, now the Herschel Museum of Astronomy. His fame led King George III to summon him to live near Windsor as Court Astronomer. It is unlikely that the planet Uranus has been observed from 19 New King Street since William and Caroline left at the end of 1782 – that is, until Thursday 18 November 2010 when twelve “Bath Astronomers”, used the replica of a Herschel 7-foot telescope (shown right) to observe the planet from the ground floor balcony.
For the first time since it was made by Mr Michael Tabb, the telescope focused the image of Herschel’s planet using a mirror made of the same alloy that Herschel used so it was possible to appreciate exactly what Herschel saw on that historic night. Uranus appeared to us as a bright greenish ‘star’ quite close to where the planet Jupiter appeared on this occasion. Its appearance was like a rather fuzzy comet due to the layer of cloud through which it was shining.
Curiously, Herschel himself thought he had discovered a comet, not a planet. Perhaps he observed it through cloud too! The experienced amateur astronomers present remarked on the fine image of Jupiter formed by the mirror made of ‘speculum metal’ by Mr. Yojiro Ogane, member of the Herschel Society of Japan who presented it to the William Herschel Society in March 2003. Those that retired to the ‘New Inn’ afterwards realised that this was quite an historic occasion.
The telescope that was used can be seen by the reception desk of the Herschel Museum of Astronomy, open weekdays, except Wednesdays, 1pm to 5pm (last entry 4.30pm) and weekends and bank holidays, 11am to 5pm (last entry 4.30pm).
“Bath Astronomers” are a group of amateur astronomers who meet quarterly and hold star-parties when there are clear nights. It is the observing subsection of the WHS/BRLSI “Herschel Astronomy Group”.
Details of their activities are to be found on their web-site www.bathastronomers.co.uk Anyone interested can join and take part in the Forum by providing a username and password. There are no joining fees or subscriptions. Non-members are welcome to come to the star parties as onlookers, especially if they bring binoculars.