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Nebulae sweep books of William Herschel

Reference number: MS/272

Date: 1783-1802


Records of astronomical sweeps of the night sky, noting nebulae, stars and other objects.

The volumes in this series progress from being relatively basic observational records, to more detailed and consistent works as Herschel's level of experience as an astronomer increases during the period of these observations. Later volumes have a greater level of complexity as scientific records, in addition to containing occasional comments on equipment, observational techniques, visitors and other matters.

The data contained within these volumes informed the Registers of nebulae and was ultimately used in Herschel's series of Royal Society papers on nebulae, including the following.

Observations for 1783-1785: 'Catalogue of one thousand new nebulae and clusters of stars' by William Herschel, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, v.76 (1786) pp.457-499.
Observations for 1785-1788: 'Catalogue of a second thousand of new nebulae and clusters of stars; with a few introductory remarks on the construction of the heavens' by William Herschel, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, v.79 (1789) pp.212-255.
Observations for 1788-1799: 'Catalogue of 500 new nebulae, nebulous stars, planetary nebulae,and clusters of stars; with remarks on the construction of the heavens', by William Herschel, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, v.92 (1802) pp.477-528.

This set of documents is referred to in Sir John Herschel's explanation of Herschel family manuscripts on nebulae. See pp.6-7 of 'Catalogue of nebulae and clusters of stars', by John Frederick William Herschel, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, v.154 (1864) pp.1-137. 'In presenting to the Royal Society this Catalogue, it will be accompanied by the following series of records and documents...7th. The original sweeps with the 20-feet Reflector at Slough in which the nebulae were observed, contained in three small quarto and four folio volumes of MS.'

Custodial history

Presented by Sir John Frederick William Herschel. On 4 October 1863, Sir John Herschel noted in his diary that he had 'Added the final sentences to the introduction of my nebulae catalogue and prepared a letter for Stokes presenting my Father's sweeps & Register sheets & my Aunt's Catalogue to R.S.' These were taken by his son William for delivery to Somerset House on 15 October [MS/583/29]. The donation was acknowledged in the Royal Society's Council Minutes of 28 January 1864, where the packages of papers are listed. Council noted 'That the best thanks of the President and Council be returned to Sir John Herschel for his interesting and valuable present…and that these MSS be preserved in the Archives of the Royal Society.' [RS Council Minutes, Printed, v3 1858-69, p.177].

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Physical description
On paper, bound in pasteboard covers.
Page extent
7 volumes

Creator name

William Herschel

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William Herschel, Nebulae sweep books of William Herschel, 1783-1802, MS/272, The Royal Society Archives, London,, accessed on 26 May 2024

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This volume contains 7 manuscripts:

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