Today is the birthday of William Herschel (15 November 1738 – 25 August 1822) a German born British astronomer known today as the discoverer of the planet Uranus in March of 1781. He also discovered two of Uranus’s moons, Titania and Oberon and two moons of Saturn. He is also credited with the discovery of Infrared radiation, and to honor that the image above of Uranus is a 1998 false-colour near-infrared image of the planet showing cloud bands, rings, and moons obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope’s NICMOS camera.
Herschel named his discovery George, oddly enough, to commemorate his new patron, King George III. At the time he said this:
In the fabulous ages of ancient times the appellations of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were given to the Planets, as being the names of their principal heroes and divinities. In the present more philosophical era it would hardly be allowable to have recourse to the same method and call it Juno, Pallas, Apollo or Minerva, for a name to our new heavenly body. The first consideration of any particular event, or remarkable incident, seems to be its chronology: if in any future age it should be asked, when this last-found Planet was discovered? It would be a very satisfactory answer to say, ‘In the reign of King George the Third’.
Few astronomers outside of England liked the name, however, and astronomers began proposing alternatives almost immediately. German astronomer Johann Elert Bode called it Uranus (Ancient Greek: Οὐρανός) after the Ancient Greek god of the sky, the logic being that as Saturn was the father of Jupiter, the new planet should be the father of Saturn. It wasn’t until the middle of the next century that atlases dropped Herschel’s name and adopted Uranus.
All images in the public domain.