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John Herschel's notes from the Cape

Read a few excerpts from the great astronomer's journal from studying the Southern Hemisphere skies.

John-Herschel_Cape-Notes
John Herschel's observations from Cape Town laid the foundations for the General Catalogue of the skies. // Andy Burns/Herschel Museum of Astronomy
In January 1834, John Herschel and his family arrived from England in the Cape Colony of what is now South Africa. His mission was to survey the southern skies like he had done the north. Herschel kept a journal throughout his four years there, documenting his daily activities, dinner parties, the landscape, and, of course, his observations. What follows is a selection of his entries.

Notice Herschel's attention to detail when describing the landscape in his excerpt from April 20, 1834; his excitement over Halley's comet throughout 1835; his entries concerning his invention of the "astrometer" in March 1836; and most notably, his description of Eta Carina's brightening in December 1837. Because the journal was Herschel's private notes, there are many abbreviations in the text. When the entries were compiled and published as a collection, they were preserved in their original form as close as possible.

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