William Herschel discovers Uranus

Music was William Herschel’s first love. He was a musician in the Germany army, before coming to Britain and joining an orchestra in Newcastle as a violin soloist (and in between composing several original symphonies of his own.) Later on he was named director of public concerts and the main organist for a fashionable spa in the town of Bath. He could have made a good life playing music alone, but along the way he developed an interest in mathematics and lenses, and took up astronomy.

On this day day, March 13, in 1781, while engaged in a search for double stars — in the back yard of his own home, with his own modified telescope, William Herschel noticed an unusual non-disc object, which turned out to be the seventh planet from the sun.

Herschel thought his discovery may be a comet when he reported it to the British astronomical society, but follow-up observations concluded its a planet. To curry favor with the crown, Herschel named it after King George III, but the name did not stick. Other astronomers proposed naming it after Herschel, or naming it it Neptune. The name finally chosen was Uranus, was for the Greek god of the sky, as well as the father of the previous planet in orbit, Saturn (who in Greek mythology was the father of Jupiter — the planet before Saturn in orbit.)