Herschel Astronomical Society
Objects and Facilities.
The Herschel Astronomical Society (HAS) exists to provide a
forum where those keen on astronomy can meet and share their
mutual interests. Particular attention is paid to observing
and the society has its own Observatory, situated in the grounds
of Eton College, and housing two large telescopes (a 6-inch
Cooke refractor and a 12-inch cassegrain) as well as a number
of portable instruments. Public viewing sessions are organised
as part of the society’s aim to help educate the public
in the science of astronomy, and the Observatory is also used
to promote astronomy amongst schools and other groups of young
Formal meetings, incorporating an astronomical lecture, are
held on the second Friday of each month, from September through
to May, and periodic outings are organised to places of astronomical
interest. Observing evenings are held at members homes as well
as at the observatory. The Society also publishes its own Magazine.
The HAS was founded in 1966 to provide a forum for active observers.
(as opposed to the arm-chair variety) It took its name from
Sir William Herschel, the 18th astronomer who, on 13 March 1781,
using a telescope he had made himself, discovered the planet
Uranus, the first new planet to be discovered since the dawn
of history. At the time he was Director of Public Concerts in
fashionable Bath, but in 1782 he was invited by King George
III to become ‘King’s Astronomer’. He moved
to Datchet, then to Old Windsor and finally to what became known
as ‘Observatory House’ in Slough. Herschel continued
to build telescopes, culminating in the giant 40-foot, completed
in 1789, which remained the largest in the world for half a
century. With the assistance of his sister Caroline, herself
an accomplished astronomer, he explored the heavens in a way
never before attempted. In addition to Uranus and two of its
satellites his discoveries included some 2500 new Nebulae, 800
double stars, the rotation periods of the outer planets and
two new moons of Saturn. In 1800, while studying the heat from
he sun’s rays, he discovered Infra-red radiation.
Further details of Herschel’s work, and that of his sister
Caroline, can be found on numerous web sites and in biographies,
the best known of which is ‘The Herschel Chronicle’,
written by his grand-daughter, Constance Lubbock.
In 1981, to mark the bi-centenary of the discovery of the planet
Uranus, the HAS put on ‘An Evening with Herschel’
in the Planet Theatre in Slough, and began the building of their
observatory. This was opened in 1983 by Patrick Moore and Caroline
Herschel, the great-great-grand daughter of Sir William.