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Treasures of the RAS

The Library and Archives of the Royal Astronomical Society contain books, images and documents significant in the development of scientific thought in astronomy, geophysics and related disciplines. In this series of articles and videos RAS Librarians display some of the gems of the collection.

Treasures of the RAS: The discovery of Uranus

In this edition of Treasures of the RAS, Librarian Jenny Higham introduces the notebooks of William Herschel, describing his discovery of Uranus in 1781.

Herschel recorded his observations of a new planet in his working notebook of March 1781: "a curious either nebulous star or perhaps a comet", near the star Pollux.

Later observations demonstrated that this was the first new planet discovered since prehistoric times.

Herschel attempted to name the planet 'Georgium sidus' (George's star) after King George III. Although this brought him great favour with the King, the name was unpopular outside Britain. Later agreement called the planet 'Uranus'.

Treasures of the RAS: Uranometria by Johann Bayer

In this edition of Treasures of the RAS, Librarian Jenny Higham introduces the first scientific star atlas, made by Johann Bayer in 1603.

Why do some stars have names with Greek letters in them? Bayer's atlas was the first to identify stars within each constellation by a Greek letter, now known as the 'Bayer designation'.

The atlas includes engravings of the mythical figures of the constellations, but the locations of the stars are based on the best observations of the time. There is also a reference grid on the edges of the maps  making it a forerunner of all later sky atlases.