Thursday, June 18, 2009

June 18: William Lassell

William Lassell
June 18, 1799 – October 5, 1880

William Lassell was an English astronomer who discovered moons of Neptune, Saturn and Uranus.

Born in Bolton, he made his fortune as a beer brewer, which enabled him to indulge his interest in astronomy. He built an observatory near Liverpool with a 24-inch (610 mm) reflector telescope, for which he pioneered the use of an equatorial mount for easy tracking of objects as the earth rotates. He ground and polished the mirror himself, using equipment he constructed.

In 1846 Lassell discovered Triton, the largest moon of Neptune, just 17 days after the discovery of Neptune itself by German astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle. In 1848 he independently co-discovered Hyperion, a moon of Saturn. In 1851 he discovered Ariel and Umbriel, two new moons of Uranus.

When Queen Victoria visited Liverpool in 1851, Lassell was the only local she specifically requested to meet.

In 1855, he built a 48-inch (1,200 mm) telescope, which he installed in Malta because of the better observing conditions compared to England.

He won the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1849, and served as its president for two years starting in 1870. Lassell died in Maidenhead in 1880. Upon his death, he left a fortune of £80,000 (equivalent to millions of American dollars by today's standards).

The crater Lassell on the Moon, a crater on Mars and a ring of Neptune are named in his honour.

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