William Lassell

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William Lassell

Building the Albert Dock in Liverpool gave a man a powerful thirst. Workers drank up to a dozen pints of beer a day — and that was during the work day, with beer provided by the company. And while the workers drank, beer baron William Lassell got rich.

Lassell used some of that wealth to study the stars. He designed and built one of the world’s largest telescopes, and used it to make many important discoveries.

Lassell was born 225 years ago today. He made his first telescope by age 21. In the 1830s, he built an estate in Liverpool and called it “Starfield.”

At the time, there were few professional astronomers anywhere. Much of the leading research was done by wealthy amateurs like Lassell. In the 1840s, he designed a steam-powered machine to grind the mirror for a 24-inch telescope — one of the largest in the world. The telescope was a trendsetter, because it could track objects across the entire sky.

Using this new instrument, Lassell discovered Triton, the largest moon of Neptune, plus two moons of Uranus and one of Saturn. Later, he moved the telescope to the Mediterranean to escape Liverpool’s rainy, polluted skies. And later still, he built an even bigger telescope.

William Lassell died in 1880. But his contributions remind us of an important era for astronomy — an era made possible by the thirst for knowledge — not to mention the thirst for beer.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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