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John Herschel
John Herschel

Press Release - 31 August 2006

Free lecture: the extraordinary life of John Herschel, son of William Herschel

The life of John Herschel, described as the ‘first modern scientist’, and the son of Bath’s famous astronomer William Herschel, will be explored in a free lecture on Thursday 14 September (7.30pm).

John Herschel (1792-1871) was the son of William Herschel and a polymath with an amazing range of talents, excelling in chemistry, physics, astronomy, mathematics, languages, art and other areas.

In 1833 Herschel travelled to South Africa in order to catalogue the stars, nebulae, and other objects of the southern skies. This was to complement the earlier survey of the northern heavens undertaken initially by his father William.

Professor Brian Warner, Emeritus Professor of Natural Philosophy University of Cape Town, is an expert in astronomy and its history. His lecture will illustrate many aspects of Herschel’s multi-faceted career, with special emphasis on his time at the Cape of Good Hope.

Dr Peter Ford, Department of Physics, who will be chairing the lecture, said: “John Herschel made many important contributions to astronomy. In addition to his astronomical work, Herschel’s time in South Africa gave him an escape from the pressures under which he found himself in London, where he was one of the most sought-after of all British men of science.

“While in South Africa he was able to follow a wide variety of scientific pursuits free from a sense of strong obligations to a larger scientific community. It was, he later recalled, probably the happiest time in his life.”

Professor Warner is originally from East Grinstead in Sussex, where his interest in astronomy was encouraged by Sir Patrick Moore, President of the William Herschel Society in Bath. After graduating from London University and a spell at the Radcliffe Observatory, he spent time at the University of Austin in Texas before becoming Professor of Astronomy at Cape Town. He has carried out a good deal of pioneer work in astrophysics, but is perhaps best known for his researches into the strange stars known as the dwarf novae.

The free lecture will take place in Lecture Theatre 8 West 1.1, on the University of Bath’s Claverton campus, at 7.30pm on Thursday 14 September 2006. No need to book tickets – just turn up on the evening.

The lecture is organised annually by the University and the William Herschel Society in remembrance of the Bath astronomer who observed the planet Uranus in 1781, the first planet discovered since antiquity.


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