Sir William Herschel's 217-year-old, 20-foot wooden telescope tube-a centerpiece of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum's upcoming exhibition, "Explore the Universe"-has arrived at the museum on the National Mall. On loan from the National Maritime Museum in London, Herschel's favorite telescope and an original metal mirror crafted for the tube traveled by ship from England and were transported from the Port of Baltimore in an 18-wheeled truck. Technicians at the museum carefully unpacked and removed the tube from its special shipping crate on June 29, mounting it in the permanent "Explore the Universe" gallery. "Explore the Universe" opens to the public on Sept. 21, displaying the Herschel telescope for the first time in the United States.
Herschel-the first person in recorded history to discover a planet (Uranus)-began observing with his 20-foot reflecting telescope in 1783. Although he went on to build even larger tubes, Herschel preferred using the 20-foot model. With it, he and his son John discovered thousands of nebulae and star clusters. Their spoken observations were written down by Herschel's sister Caroline, whose ink sometimes froze in its bottle on cold winter evenings. In the 1830s John took the telescope to South Africa to map the portion of the heavens not visible from England, thus completing the mapping of the entire night sky.
From 1783 onward, William Herschel worked at improving the telescope, modifying its optics, framework and controls many times. In 1828 the Royal Astronomical Society awarded Caroline Herschel a gold medal for her work-an honor that would not be bestowed on another woman for more than 150 years. John Herschel received the Society's gold medal for his "Catalog of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars...of 1833."
Using an unprecedented array of artifacts, "Explore the Universe" will portray how mankind's perception of the Universe changed as the technology changed. The exhibition curator is Dr. David DeVorkin.
"Explore the Universe" is made possible through the generous contributions of the National Science Foundation and TRW. Additional funding is provided by Corning Incorporated, Corning Foundation,
NASA and the Smithsonian Institution Special Exhibitions Fund. Additional Support is provided by Kodak Inc. and Analytical Graphics.