William Herschel was one of the top astronomers of his day. He discovered that the ice caps on Mars change with the seasons. He was the first to suggest that the Milky Way is shaped like a disk. And he was the first person to find a planet: In 1781, he discovered Uranus, the seventh planet from the Sun. So when Herschel suggested that the Sun was inhabited, other astronomers paid attention.
Herschel presented his views on the Sun to Britain’s Royal Society in 1795 — 225 years ago.
At the time, many scientists thought that all the planets were inhabited. And many considered the Sun to be a planet as well. So Herschel’s idea didn’t seem off base.
He suggested that the Sun was surrounded by a hot, glowing atmosphere. Dark sunspots were “holes” in that layer that provided a view of the solid Sun below. That realm was inhabited by, as Herschel put it, “beings whose organs are adapted to the peculiar circumstances of that vast globe.”
Some scientists were skeptical of that picture. They wondered how anyone could survive below the Sun’s bright, hot atmosphere. So a few years later, Herschel suggested there was a layer of dark clouds below the bright atmosphere — thick enough to protect the Sun’s inhabitants.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that scientists finally worked out the details about the Sun. It’s a giant ball of gas that shines by fusing together hydrogen atoms in its core to make helium — with no “Solarians” in sight.
Script by Damond Benningfield