the field and become manufacturers. When the lamp became
John Herschel undertook the important task of re-observing the various double stars and nebulae which had been discovered during these memorable vigils. The son, however, lacked one inestimable advantage which had been possessed by the father. John Herschel had no assistant to discharge all those duties which Caroline had so efficiently accomplished. He had, therefore, to modify the system of sweeping previously adopted in order to enable all the work both of observing and of recording to be done by himself. This, in many ways, was a great drawback to the work of the younger astronomer. The division of labour between the observer and the scribe enables a greatly increased quantity of work to be got through. It is also distinctly disadvantageous to an observer to have to use his eye at the telescope directly after he has been employing it for reading the graduations on a circle, by the light of a lamp, or for entering memoranda in a note book. Nebulae, especially, are often so excessively faint that they can only be properly observed by an eye which is in that highly sensitive condition which is obtained by long continuance in darkness. The frequent withdrawal of the eye from the dark field of the telescope, and the application of it to reading by artificial light, is very prejudicial to its use for the more delicate purpose. John Herschel, no doubt, availed himself of every precaution to mitigate the ill effects of this inconvenience as much as possible, but it must have told upon his labours as compared with those of his father.
But nevertheless John Herschel did great work during his "sweeps." He was specially particular to note all the double stars which presented themselves to his observation. Of course some little discretion must be allowed in deciding as to what degree of proximity in adjacent stars does actually bring them within the category of "double stars." Sir John set down all such objects as seemed to him likely to be of interest, and the results of his discoveries in this branch of astronomy amount to some thousands. Six or seven great memoirs in the TRANSACTIONS of the Royal Astronomical Society have been devoted to giving an account of his labours in this department of astronomy.
[PLATE: THE CLUSTER IN THE CENTAUR, drawn by Sir John Herschel.]
One of the achievements by which Sir John Herschel is best known is his invention of a method by which the orbits of binary stars could be determined. It will be observed that when one star revolves around another in consequence of the law of gravitation, the orbit described must be an ellipse. This ellipse, however, generally speaking, appears to us more or less foreshortened, for it is easily seen that only under highly exceptional circumstances would the plane in which the stars move happen to be directly square to the line of view. It therefore follows that what we observe is not exactly the track of one star around the other; it is rather the projection of that track as seen on the surface of the sky. Now it is remarkable that this apparent path is still an ellipse. Herschel contrived a very ingenious and simple method by which he could discover from the observations the size and position of the ellipse in which the revolution actually takes place. He showed how, from the study of the apparent orbit of the star, and from certain measurements which could easily be effected upon it, the determination of the true ellipse in which the movement is performed could be arrived at. In other words, Herschel solved in a beautiful manner the problem of finding the true orbits of double stars. The importance of this work may be inferred from the fact that it has served as the basis on which scores of other investigators have studied the fascinating subject of the movement of binary stars.
The labours, both in the discovery and measurement of the double stars, and in the discussion of the observations with the object of finding the orbits of such stars as are in actual revolution, received due recognition in yet another gold medal awarded by the Royal Society. An address was delivered on the occasion by the Duke of Sussex (30th November, 1833), in the course of which, after stating that the medal had been conferred on Sir John Herschel, he remarks:--
"It has been said that distance of place confers the same privilege as distance of time, and I should gladly avail myself of the privilege which is thus afforded me by Sir John Herschel's separation from his country and friends, to express my admiration of his character in stronger terms than I should otherwise venture to use; for the language of panegyric, however sincerely it may flow from the heart, might be mistaken for that of flattery, if it could not thus claim somewhat of an historical character; but his great attainments in almost every department of human knowledge, his fine powers as a philosophical writer, his great services and his distinguished devotion to science, the high principles which have regulated his conduct in every relation of life, and, above all, his engaging modesty, which is the crown of all his other virtues, presenting such a model of an accomplished philosopher as can rarely be found beyond the regions of fiction, demand abler pens than mine to describe them in adequate terms, however much inclined I might feel to undertake the task."
The first few lines of the eulogium just quoted allude to Herschel's absence from England. This was not merely an episode of interest in the career of Herschel, it was the occasion of one of the greatest scientific expeditions in the whole history of astronomy.
Herschel had, as we have seen, undertaken a revision of his father's "sweeps" for new objects, in those skies which are visible from our latitudes in the northern hemisphere. He had well-nigh completed this task. Zone by zone the whole of the heavens which could be observed from Windsor had passed under his review. He had added hundreds to the list of nebulae discovered by his father. He had announced thousands of double stars. At last, however, the great survey was accomplished. The contents of the northern hemisphere, so far at least as they could be disclosed by his telescope of twenty feet focal length, had been revealed.
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