Account of observations made with a twenty-feet reflecting telescope: Comprehending, 1. Descriptions and approximate places of 321 new double and triple stars. 2. Observations of the second comet of 1825. 3. An account of the actual state of the great nebula in Orion, compared with those of former astronomers. 4. Observations of the nebula in the girdle of Andromeda.

London: Richard Taylor, 1826.

First edition, rare offprint issue, inscribed by Herschel. The work begins with a description of the reflecting telescope, with an 18-inch aperture and 20-feet focal length, the largest telescope in the world at the time, which was constructed in 1820 by John and his father William. Herschel used this telescope to make the observations which subsequently led to his fame as an astronomer. Part 2 contains the first accurate drawing of the Orion nebula. “One of the most impressive pieces of celestial cartography ever produced is Herschel’s detailed drawing of the Great Nebula in Orion. By far the most striking of all nebulae …” (Buttmann, The Shadow of the Telescope (1974), p. 101). “In 1826 Herschel published a monograph on the Orion nebula and one on the nebula in Andromeda, together with other observations made with the 20-foot telescope. The purpose of the paper on the Orion nebula was to determine from a comparison with earlier observations whether any noticeable changes in structure or brightness had occurred. The text is supplemented by a drawing of the nebula” (ibid., p. 50). The first part of this four-part paper comprises Herschel’s second catalogue of double stars, building upon the catalogue of 380 double stars he had produced in collaboration with James South. OCLC lists four copies in US (Amherst, Smithsonian, US Naval Observatory, Yale). ABPC/RBH list just one copy (not a presentation copy).

Provenance: Cambridge Observatory Library (ink stamp on outer front wrapper and title page, ‘Observatory’ written on insider front wrapper, ‘Observatory Library Cambridge from the Author’ written in Herschel’s hand on title page, bookplate of Cambridge Observatory inscribed ‘presented by J. F. W. Herschel, March 1831’ on title verso).

“Searching for a life occupation in his early years, [John] Herschel (1792-1871) turned briefly to chemistry, an interest terminated by a failed application for the chair of chemistry at Cambridge. He then tried the law as a profession in London, where he met astronomer James South, before returning to Cambridge, first as a subtutor in mathematics. In 1816, when Herschel took his master’s degree, he was elected a fellow of St. John’s College; in that same year, his ailing father appealed to John to carry on his work …

“John took up his father’s last project, the discovery and observation of double stars. Originally, William had targeted them in the hope that if a stellar pair consists of one very remote component accidentally nearly aligned with a nearer one, this fortuitous coincidence could help determine the parallax of the nearer star. William’s work demonstrated instead that double stars are mostly close pairs gravitationally bound; the goal of extending this project was the discovery of orbital motions. Herschel and South used refractors fitted with positional circles for making observations that led to their catalog of 380 double stars published in 1824, earning them the Gold Medal of the Astronomical Society and the Lalande Prize of the Paris Academy of Sciences …

“From 1825 to 1833, Herschel was deeply involved in astronomical observations, using one of the refractors obtained from South and a 20-ft. reflector with 18-in. aperture, still the world’s largest telescope. The observations involved a prodigious amount of work, leading to the publication in a series of papers listing a total of 5,075 double stars, … together with the general catalogue of nebulae and clusters derived from observations covering the whole northern sky using the sweeping survey technique devised by his father” (Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers, p. 493). A table in the present paper “exhibits, in eight columns, the approximate places of 321 new double and triple stars, for Jan. 1, 1825, with their estimated angles of position, distances, magnitudes, and other particulars. A great many of the double stars tabulated in this paper, exhibit the highly interesting and curious phenomenon of contrasted colours; in combinations of white and blue or purple, yellow, orange, or red, large stars, with blue or purple small ones: red and white combinations also sometimes occur, though with less frequency. In all these cases, the excess of rays belonging to the less refrangible end of the spectrum falls to the share of the large star, and those of the more refrangible portion to the small. Another fact not less remarkable, and rendering highly probable some other relation than that of mere juxtaposition, is, that though red single stars are common enough, no example of an insulated blue, green, or purple one has yet been produced” (Annals of Philosophy 12 (1826), p. 233).

“Apart from William Herschel, his son John was the greatest discoverer of nebulae and star clusters. About his motivation he wrote in 1826 at Slough that ‘The nature of nebulae, it is obvious, can never become more known to us than at present, except in two ways, - either by the direct observation of changes in the form or physical condition of some one or more among them, or from the comparison of a great number, so as to establish a kind of scale or graduation from the most ambiguous, to objects of whose nature there can be no doubt’ [p. 487]. The first way had already been realised through his detailed observations of the Orion and Andromeda Nebulae [in the present paper]. The second – the study of a large number of objects – was mastered in the years 1825-33, reproducing and extending the observations of his father … For his observations John Herschel used a reflector with an aperture of 18¼", which was completed in 1820. It used two mirrors, one made by his father alone and another one cast and ground under his father’s supervision. The telescope resembles William Herschel’s famous ‘large 20ft’” (Steinicke, Observing and Cataloguing Nebulae and Star Clusters: From Herschel to Dreyer's New General Catalogue (2010), p. 52).

Plates VII and VIII depict the Orion nebula, Plate VI the comet that appeared early in 1825 in the constellation Taurus and which Herschel observed in October. He noted that it “has no sharp, star-like centre, but a much brighter yet quite milky, round kernel of about 15 seconds to 20 seconds diameter, shading insensibly but almost suddenly away. Its coma is irregular. On the preceding side it extends further, and is partly detached …Tail distinctly bifid, divided into two great branches which go off immediately from the nucleus at an angle of 45° with each other …” (p. 487).



Offprint from Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society. 4to (288 x 227 mm), pp. [ii], [1], 460-497, with three engraved plates numbered Vi-VIII (plates foxed, four small spots of glue used to attach bookplate to title verso with some show-through to recto and with offsetting onto first leaf of text). Later (early 20th century?) plain wrappers with original front wrapper bound in.

Item #4410

Price: $1,800.00