8 – 10 October 2021 Bath’s Herschel Museum Joins World Space Week with weekend of special events that also celebrates women in space
The Herschel Museum in Bath is taking part in an international event organised by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) and Leicester University, called The Weird and Wonderful World of Uranus. The historic home of early astronomers William and Caroline Herschel will host a series of events, featuring live streams of Uranus, from Friday 8 October to Sunday 10 October, between 9am to 5pm. Each day will feature short films, with contributions from experts in the field of astronomy and space science. Charles Draper, chairman of the Herschel Society, will be one of the guests talking about the Herschels and their pioneering contributions to our understanding of the galaxy.
After emigrating from Germany in the second half of the 18th century, the family settled at 19 New King Street – now the Herschel Museum of Astronomy, operated by the Bath Preservation Trust – and it was here, in the garden on the night of 13 March 1781, using a homemade telescope, that William observed the first planet to be identified since the days of the Ancient Greeks. He initially called his discovery ‘Georgium Sidus’ (George’s Star) after King George III, before it was renamed ‘Uranus’ after the Greek God of the sky, Ouranos.
Caroline had arrived from Hanover in 1772, initially to work as her old brother’s assistant but became famous herself following her discovery of three nebulae in 1783, and in 1786 being the first woman to discover a comet. Over the next 11 years, she observed seven other comets.
Such was her status, that Caroline was the first woman in Britain to receive a royal pension for astronomy, and in 1828 became the first woman to win the RAS Gold Medal, awarded in recognition of her discovery of the eight comets and her work refining and updating star catalogues.
The Weird and Wonderful World of Uranus events will also afford visitors the opportunity to wander through the house and look through replicas of the telescopes the Herschels invented and used, see the music room where William – originally a professional musician – tutored his
students and the workshop, and see the furnace and smelting oven William used to make his own telescopic lenses.
Also on display is a visitor’s book that Caroline compiled and in which she listed the names of people who came to look through William’s telescopes during their time at Observatory House. Among the leading scientists, writers, artists, politicians and foreign royalty of the day,
were such luminaries of Georgian culture as Lord Byron, Joseph Haydn, and Fanny Burney.
An audio tour for adult visitors further brings the house to life, with stories about how the Herschel family lived and worked, exploring their contributions to science and music during their time in 19 New King Street. For children, an audio-visual guide is available, in which youngsters can ‘meet’ Caroline as she takes them around her home and helps her young guests to explore the various rooms and collections, encouraging them to make their own discoveries.
Director of Museums Claire Dixon said “Our partnership with the Royal Astronomical Society is one that provides professional support and advice to museum staff, as well as great collaborations that support our exhibition and activity programme. This event is going to be an exciting opportunity for our audiences and will provide a unique way to connect with William Herschel and his incredible discovery that at the time, doubled the size of the known universe.”