Program for the June 3, 2016, OAS meeting

The Herschels: Musical Maestros to Celestial Celebrities

By Janean Shane


The Herschel family cast of characters:

Isaac Herschel, the father: Competent, but poorly paid, musician. Married an eighteen-year-old illiterate servant girl, Anna, after they had been to bed together with the inevitable result. Isaac taught music to all of their kids.

Anna Herschel, the mother: Six of ten children born to Isaac and Anna survived to adulthood, but the youngest daughter, Caroline, was a sickly child. Anna treated Caroline as a mere household servant.

First-born Sophia: When tragically widowed, Sophia was left with six children, but all six were eventually successful court musicians.

Jacob Herschel: Oldest son. Fine successful musician, but the consequences surrounding Jacob’s death are shrouded in mystery. Was Jacob the family’s “skeleton-in-the-closet”?

William Herschel: Violinist, oboist, composer-turned-astronomer. Discovered the planet Uranus. Superb telescope maker. With Caroline’s devoted assistance, William discovered and/or catalogued over 2,500 deep sky objects. One day, William almost managed to accidently burn down the house.

Alexander Herschel: In his youth, a spendthrift, frequently in debt. Exceptional mechanical ability. Contrived accurate clocks that were especially useful for determining positions of celestial objects.

Caroline Herschel: How did this sickly, disfigured little girl progress from being a slave-like domestic servant, to lead-soloist in Handel’s Messiah, to astronomy cataloguer for the Royal Society of London? Stay tuned.

Dietrich, the youngest of the siblings: At age two, destroyed celestial globes William had made. Later, ran away from home.

John Herschel, William’s son: As a child, John was somewhat ignored by his father William, but doted upon by Caroline. As an adult, John continued his father’s astronomy work.

Does all of this sound like a “soap opera”? Tune in for more at the June OAS meeting!

Speaker Bio:

Janean Shane, native of Salina Kansas, was bitten by the astronomy bug in high school when her parents gave her a Tasco 3” reflector telescope for Christmas. With little or no available help or “mentors” at the time, her interest waned somewhat after she had viewed the moon’s craters, Saturn’ rings, and Jupiter and its moons and thought she had “seen everything.” Fast-forward to 2007, when Janean and her husband, Kendahl, joined the Omaha Astronomical Society. Janean credits the fun, help, and camaraderie of fellow club members for re-kindling a strong interest and curiosity about what-all is really “out there” to see. Participation in the Astronomical League’s variety of “Observing Clubs” is also a great motivator. Janean confesses that basking in the glory of wearing Observing Club award pins is fun, but she finds that completion of a Club’s requirements, just for the pin and certificate, is not really important. The enjoyment of just “dabbling” in the wide variety of topics covered in the various Clubs is reward enough!