Herschel was the original designation of Uranus. It was named after Sir William Her-schel, the astronomer who discovered Uranus. British astrologers persisted in using the name long after the rest of the world had switched to Uranus.

William Herschel was born Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel in Hanover, Germany, on November 15, 1738, and anglicized his name after he moved to England. His original profession was music, and music students were said to have flocked to him because of his talent, amiability, and teaching ability. He became interested in astronomy and took it up as a hobby; in time, it consumed him. He taught himself calculus and optics and, dissatisfied with the quality of existing telescopes, designed and built his own (later declared to be far better than any other in existence). He was creative and resourceful. Concerned about the welfare of his sister Caroline, whose brilliance was being wasted by parents who held very traditional ideas about the proper place of women, Herschel arranged for her to move to England and become his partner in the music (and later astronomy) business.

A modest individual, he brought Uranus to the attention of other astronomers with the announcement that he had discovered a new "comet." When, after he had become famous, the king wished to honor him with an official appointment, he made certain that his sister also received a royal subsidy—making her the first woman in history to become a professional astronomer. Herschel also went into the telescope-manufacturing business: It was through a Herschel telescope that the first asteroid, Ceres, was discovered.


Littmann, Mark. Planets Beyond: Discovering the Outer Solar System. 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1990.

Paul, Haydn. Revolutionary Spirit: Exploring the Astrological Uranus. Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK: Element Books, 1989.

Room, Adrian. Dictionary of Astronomical Names. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1988.

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