English Astronomers: Stonehenge and Bath, England

Posted by David Eicher
on Tuesday, August 13, 2013

On Monday, August 12, 2013, our travel group of 25 Astronomy magazine readers, accompanied by Melita Thorpe of MWT Associates, set off with our guide to see two of England’s greatest historic and astronomical sites. First, we traveled from London to the Salisbury Plain to see Stonehenge, the neolithic stone monument dating to roughly 3000 B.C. that is aligned with the sunrise of the solstices and equinoxes. This is far short of an astronomical observatory, as the monument is sometimes described, and it’s far more proper to think of Stonehenge as primarily a burial site of ritual ancestor worship and communal gatherings. Still, the monument has an astronomical context and fascinates scientists from all over the world.

A reproduction of the telescope used to discover Uranus, Herschel House, Bath, England, August 12, 2013. // Credit: David J. Eicher
It was simply surreal and an amazing start to the day.

But the day was destined to become even better with one of Europe’s great astronomy sites. By afternoon, we arrived in Bath, one of the prettiest cities in Europe, and one that features extensive, pristine 18th-century architecture that appears just as it did when Jane Austen, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Mary Shelley, Henry Fielding, and Charles Dickens lived or hung out there. Of course, the city originated in Roman times and was named for the hot mineral waters Romans discovered bubbling up in areas of the city, with which they founded mineral baths.

Of greatest interest to our group was the William Herschel house, where the German-English astronomer lived and where he discovered the planet Uranus using a small telescope in his backyard garden. The story of the Herschels, William with his contributions to discoveries beyond Uranus, double stars, and much of the deep-sky universe we now know, aided by his sister Caroline, is well known. And his son John Herschel’s myriad accomplishments in astronomy, photography, and other sciences are stellar.

It was incredible to see the house, the walk through the garden of discovery, to inspect John Herschel’s mineral collection, the many letters of William and Caroline, the numerous original artifacts littering three floors of the house. The group was simply stunned to be so close to great astronomical history.

We then walked the town and ended up at the Roman baths, where we enjoyed the history there and took high tea at 4 p.m. in the famous Pump Room.

A return to London ended the day, and brought the trip to a near close, although most of the travelers have adventures in London that will continue for several days.

For all the photos of the English Astronomers tour, visit our Trips & Tours page.

Related blogs:

English Astronomers: Touring London
English Astronomers: The Royal Observatory Greenwich
English Astronomers: The British Museum
English Astronomers: Oxford, England

Tags: England
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