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Observations of the Sculptor Galaxy ( NGC 253 ) by William and John Herschel ......... Part 2. Observations of "Caroline's Galaxy" by Sir John Herschel, 1830's Sir John Herschel, the only child of Mary Baldwin and Sir William Herschel, was born in 1792 when his father was in middle age and already famous as one of world's leading astronomers. Having excelled in school, and no doubt inspired by his famous elders, John Herschel decided upon a career as a 'man of science' and set out to pursue a wide range of interests; with one particular focus being a continuation of the study of the heavens commenced by his father and aunt, Caroline Herschel. In 1820, with the assistance of his father, John Herschel supervised the construction of a new telescope at Slough in England. As described in the extract below ( from a paper presented to the Royal Society in 1826, titled "Account of some observations made with a 20-feet reflecting telescope ... " ), the telescope had a polished metal mirror with clear aperture of 18 inches, focal length of 20 feet and was modelled on the same design created by his father. It is this telescope, in the 1820’s and early 30’s, following the death of his father and the return of his aunt Caroline to Hanover, that John Herschel used to 'sweep' the night sky and extend the catalogue of nebulae and clusters of stars that was published by his father ( see W. Herschel's Catalogue of One Thousand new Nebulae and Clusters of Stars ). On the 1st of July 1833, having complied sufficient observations, John Herschel presented to the Royal Society an updated list of the positions and descriptions of the Nebulae and Clusters of Stars that he had thus far observed. As noted in the introduction to the paper published in the Philosophical Transactions, he had planned to wait before publishing until he had complied a fully comprehensive general catalogue of objects visible from the south of England. However, due to his expectation of “several more more years additional work” needed to complete the task and his assessment that he now was in a position to address, at least in part, the then current “... want of an extensive list of nebulae arranged in order of right ascension ...”, he elected to present his list, “ ... simply stating the individual results of such observations as I have hitherto made ... “. It was not until October 16, 1863, some thirty years later, that Sir John would deliver to the Royal Society his General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars. As well as introducing many objects that had not previously been recorded, Sir John’s list of 1833 included a re-examination of, and in some cases a small correction to, the positions of many of the deep sky objects observed by his father and noted down by his aunt. One of these re-visited objects was, unsurprisingly, the large and bright nebula discovered by Caroline Herschel in 1783 and recorded in Sir Williams’s catalogue as V.1 / CH 10 ( object number one, of class five ( very large nebulae ) / Caroline Herschel #10 ). In total, John Herschel records around 2500 observations of nebulae and clusters of stars in his 1833 paper; with observation #61 being V.1, the “ Sculptor Galaxy “ . The measured position of V.1is given in RA and the angle from the north celestial pole ( all reduced to epoch 1830.0 ). The description can be interpreted by reference to the legend in the paper. Thus, “ A vL mE vB neb “ becomes “ A very large, much extended, elliptic or elongated, very bright nebula “. He also notes that in addition to this observation, #61, noted down from sweep #306, V.1 was also observed in sweep #292, “but no place was taken”. The figure to which he refers , figure 52, is included towards the back of his paper and is a sketch he made of the Sculptor Galaxy. to be continued ...
Observations of the Sculptor Galaxy ( NGC 253 ) by William and John Herschel The very large and bright 'nebula' discovered by Caroline Herschel in 1783, that we now know as the Sculptor Galaxy, was observed a number of times by her 'dear brother' Sir William Herschel and by her 'beloved nephew' Sir John Herschel, Baronet. Some of these observations were recorded and published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and, with respect to those by Sir John in South Africa, in the book of Astronomical Observations at the Cape of Good Hope. ......... Part 1. Observation of the 'class V nebula', H V.1, by Sir William Herschel, 1783 In 1782, with the fresh patronage of King George III, William Herschel, together with his sister Caroline, undertook the not inconsiderable task of transferring his astronomical equipment from Bath to Datchet ( near Windsor ) in England. Shortly afterwards, in 1983, Sir William began a "sweep of the heavens" with the very large Newtonian telescope of his design and construction. With this mighty telescope's twenty foot focal length and clear aperture of a little over eighteen and half inches, William was able to see fainter objects and smaller detail than any other astronomer of that time. ( source: The Scientific Papers of Sir William Herschel, Vol.1 ) ...... On the 30th of October, 1783, in the course of one of his "sweeps" with the twenty-foot telescope, Sir William Herschel observed Caroline's 'nebula' and noted down ( or perhaps more likely, dictated to Caroline ) a description of what he saw and a reference to its position relative to a 4th magnitude star in the Piscis Austrainus constellation, #18 Pis. Aust. ( with reference to Flamsteed's Catalogue ( or HD 214748 , HIP 111954 as we might call it )). Over the course of the next three years, Sir William would go on to view the Sculptor Galaxy a total of seven more times; as recorded in his paper "Catalogue of One Thousand New Nebulae and Clusters of Stars", presented to the Royal Society on the 27th of April 1786. ( Source ) Sir William's somewhat cryptic notes can be translated by reference to the key provide in his paper and doing so reveals the following: Class: V. ( very large nebula ) Number: 1 Observed ( by WH ): 30 Oct 1784 Reference star: 18 Piscis Austrainus ( Flamsteed's Catalogue; the best reference for the time - we might use epsilon Pis. Aust. or HD 214748 / HIP 111954 ) Sidereal direction rel. to star ( following or leading ): following star Sidereal time rel. to star: 128 min 17 sec Declination direction rel. to star: north of star Declination amount rel. to star: 1deg 39min Observed: 8 times ( up until April 1786, the date of the paper ) Description: - cB: "confidently bright" - mE: "much extended" - sp: "south preceding" - nf: "north following" - mbM: "much brighter middle" - size: 50' x 7 or 8' " CH" denotes that it was discovered by his sister Caroline Herschel The note he refers to expands on details of Caroline's discovery ... ...............................................
The Discovery of the Sculptor Galaxy by Miss Caroline Herschel in 1783 On the 23rd of September 1783, sitting before her telescope in the field behind the house she shared with her brother William in Datchet near Slough in the south of England, Miss Caroline Herschel "swept" the sky searching for new comets and never before seen star clusters and nebulae. On this occasion, way down in the sky, not far above the Southern horizon, Miss Herschel saw and noted down a very bright and large nebula where one had never before been recorded and that was later recognised by her brother, Sir William, as the discovery by Caroline Herschel of the nebula he listed in his catalogue as H V.1. ( circ. 1825-33, Sir John Herschel, beloved nephew of Miss Caroline Herschel ) Today we know this 'nebula' to be, not as some thought then, a swirling mass of stars and gases within our own galaxy, but rather, a galaxy not unlike our own but way more distant than the outer reaches of of own Milkyway galaxy. Given various names, Silver Dollar Galaxy, Sliver Coin Galaxy or simply by its number in the New General Catalogue, NGC 253, it is most commonly called the Sculptor Galaxy and we owe its discovery to the first female professional astronomer. Caroline Herschel ( 1750 - 1848 ) ... ( link ) ( 1782 - 1783 ) ... ... ... H V.1 Observed ( by WH ): 30 Oct 1784 128 minutes, 17 seconds following and 1 degree, 39 minutes north of referenced star Description: - cB: "confidently bright" - mE: "much extended: - sp: "south preceding" - nf: "north following" -mbF: "much brighter middle" - size: 50' x 7 or 8' from: ( link ) ............................... The location reference to H V.1 ( NGC 253 ) in William Hershel's catalogue is in relation to a star found in Flamsteed's Catalogue, 18 Pis. Aust., which is #18 in Piscis Austrainus or Epsilon PsA, the 4th magnitude star HD214748 ( HIP111954 ) ( source ) ( Plate from "Atlas Coelestis" by John Flamsteed, 1646-1719 ) ------------------------------------- William Herschel found favour with the King and was granted a position as Royal Astronomer to George III in 1782. Shortly after, William and Caroline moved from Bath to Datchet ( near Windsor ) and took up residency in a rented house which, whilst somewhat delapadated and damp, had ample accommodation and fields for William to construct and deploy the large telescopes he wished to build. It was in these grounds that Caroline set up her "Sweeper" to look for comets and doing so also discovered a number of 'nebulae' including ( in 1783 ) what was later to become known as the Sculptor Galaxy. ( The Herschel house at Datchet near Windsor ) ( The Lawn, Horton Road, Slough ( Datchet ) - Google Maps ) ............. Caroline Herschel's "Sweeper" was a 27" focal length Newtonian telescope that was supported in a kind of altitude-azimuth mount consisting of a rotating table and a small gantry and pulley system that was used to effect altitude adjustments by sliding the tube up and down against a board used to provide stability. There has been some conjecture as to the exact details of the construction, however the image below, even if perhaps not the actual instrument, gives an indication of the overal design philosophy. Late in her life Caroline Herschel recorded details of her telescope in a booklet titled "My little Newtonian sweeper": In her memoir, Caroline Herschel describes the performance of her observations as the conducting of "horizontal sweeps"; from which one might assume the task consisted of setting the altitude in accordance with the plan for the night's observing and then slowing rotating the top of the table in azimuth as one observed and noted down the objects that passed across the view in the eyepiece. However, with the arrival of this new "telescopic sweeper" in the middle of 1783, Caroline Herschel added the new method of sweeping in the vertical, as noted below in an extract from her observing book ( source for both extracts: "Caroline Herschel as observer", Michael Hoskin, Journal for the History of Astronomy, 2005 ) .... The achievement of her discovery of the 'nebula' in the Sculptor constellation was remarkable in so many ways; not the least of which being the low path in the sky that the Sculptor galaxy follows when observed from Datchet in southern England - which on the night of her observation would not have exceeded 12 degrees or so above the horizon. Today, 234 years later, and blessed with 21st century luxuries and conveniences, I write on my IPAD and flip over to my planetarium application, SkySafari, and model the sky as it was seen by Caroline Herschel from near her house on the 23rd of September, 1783 ... ( SkySafari by Simulation Curriculum )