London: Lockyer Davis and Peter Elmsly. 1st Edition. FIRST EDITION OF THE FIRST RECORDED DISCOVERY OF A NEW PLANET. Complete bound extract with one plate (of 3) meticulously reproduced from the original (photos available). Prior to William Herschel’s discovery, astronomers had only known of the existence of five planets: Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Mercury. Herschel’s “discovery [was] unprecedented in human history” (Lemonick, The Georgian Star, 74). Handsome, half-calf bound extract complete with three fold-out copperplate engravings.
In 1779, the amateur British astronomer William Herschel undertook “his first review of the heavens, in which he examined stars down to the fourth magnitude. In August of that year he began a second review, more systematic and extensive than the first, and concentrated on the discovery of double stars” (Dictionary of Scientific Biography, vi, 328). Herschel used telescopes of his own design and though he was an amateur, his telescopes were unsurpassed in their power. In fact, after this discovery his telescopes were moved to the Royal Observatory.
Herschel was still continuing the same, second review when on the 13th of March of 1781 “he encountered an object which his experienced eye could tell at a glance was not an ordinary star. Yet it was not one of the planets known since the dawn of history, and Herschel supposed it to be a comet” (ibid). Observing his discovery over a few nights, however, Herschel realized that the object, carefully noting its motion so that an orbit could be determined; it seemed to Herschel to be moving to slowly to be a comet, but wasn’t yet prepared to call the object a planet.
“By the end of April, Herschel had gathered his observations together into his ‘Account of a Comet’ and presented the paper to the Bath Literary and Philosophical Society” (Lemonick). As he was not yet a member of the Royal Society, Herschel sent a copy of his paper to the British scientist and physician, William Watson. It was Watson, then, who read Herschel’s meticulous research before the Royal Society on April 26th. Despite his undisputed skill in building telescopes and his suspicion that the comet might in fact be a planet, Herschel recognized that he was an amateur, so he presented his research in the hopes that those with more experience could further study the object he had found.
By the summer of 1781 and using Herschel’s detailed examination of the object’s orbit, other astronomers showed that what Herschel had discovered was a heretofore unrecognized primary planet of the solar system. Herschel named the planet Georgium Sidus to honor George III, but it became known by the more conventional name of Uranus, proposed by J. E. Bode.
“Herschel’s discovery shook the astronomical world and thrilled the public. It earned him international fame and a paid astronomy job. People had imagined that other planets could exist in the solar system, but this was proof that more planets did exist. The solar system had just gotten bigger, and astronomy’s possibilities had expanded with it. The search for new planets was on” (Telescopes From the Ground Up, 1781: A New Planet). In 1781, Herschel was awarded the Copley Medal for his discovery. References: Dibner 13; PMM 227; Norman 1058.
Withbound: J.” A Letter From Joseph Willard To The Rev. Dr. Maskelyne, Astronomer Royal, Concerning The Longitude Of Cambridge In New England”. Item #587
CONDITION & DETAILS: London: Lockyer Davis and Peter Elmsly, Printers to the Royal Society. Complete bound extract with one plate (of 3) meticulously reproduced from the original (photos available). London: Royal Society of London. (9 x 6.75 inches; 225 x 169mm). , 492-507, [3 Herschel copperplates], 4. Bound in half-calf over gilt-ruled marbled paper boards. Gilt-lettered and ruled at the spine. Tightly and solidly bound. The slightest of toning at the edges of pages. Near fine condition.