Updated: Jun 25


Remaining in the Saturnian system, Saturday we salute the composer who discovered the satellite that's featured as fourth movement in the symphony, Enceladus.

“A composer’s cosmic calling”

On the 13th of March, 1781, the German-born British astronomer Sir Frederick William Herschel (1738-1822) made an accidental discovery. Through his hand made telescope, he observed an object orbiting beyond Saturn.

Initially, Herschel thought it was a comet or possibly a star he saw but later realized that it was, in fact, a planet and was the first person in over a thousand years to discover another world in the solar system, and overnight, became a celebrated astronomer.

This discovery was initially called “Georgian Sidus” (The Star of George) in honour of King George III. However, eventually, Uranus was settled upon named after the Greek god of the sky and became universally accepted.

Herschel was appointed “the king’s astronomer” in 1782, which allowed him access to newer and more powerful telescopes, which then led to the discovery of Enceladus, in 1789. A moon of Saturn and features as the fourth story in THE MOONS SYMPHONY.

The subject of music and symphonies leads into a conversation about Herschel's musical life which became primarily eclipsed by his famous astronomical discoveries and his meticulous dedication to observing dark skies

German-born British astronomer Sir Frederick William Herschel (1738-1822)

1785 portrait by Lemuel Francis Abbott

Herschel was an accomplished musician, like his father, and played several instruments such as the oboe, violin, cello, and piano. He composed over 25 symphonies, including several compositions for church and numerous concertos.

Click image below to hear one of his symphonies

Symphony No. 17 in C Major in three movements

Motivated by the connection between mathematics and musical harmony, Herschel consumed several books regarding scientific matters. So committed was he to his astronomical observations that he reduced the volume of his musical pupils to allow more time for his star-gazing pursuits.

In conclusion to this back story of the composer and astronomer who discovered Enceladus, below is a link to a video of Sir Patrick Moore playing one of Herschel’s piano compositions which, in his words, considers Herschel to be…

“The first man to give a reasonably correct picture of the shape of our star-system or galaxy, the best telescope-maker of his time and possibly the greatest observer who ever lived”

And so, in a fitting tribute to him, we can enjoy Sir Moore playing the piano on his 39th episode from The Sky at Night from December 1960. Click image below to watch

Image by 0fjd125gk87 from Pixabay

Click image above to read The Royal Society's article on Sir Patrick Moore

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