|Born||Caroline Lucretia Herschel
16 March 1750
|Died||9 January 1848
|Known for||Discovery of comets|
|Notable awards||Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1828)
Prussian Gold Medal for Science (1846)
Caroline Lucretia Herschel (16 March 1750 – 9 January 1848) was a German-British astronomer and the sister of astronomer Sir William Herschel with whom she worked throughout both of their careers. Her most significant contribution to astronomy was the discovery of several comets and in particular the periodic comet 35P/Herschel-Rigollet, which bears her name. At the age of ten, Caroline was struck with typhus, which stunted her growth, so that she never grew past four-foot three. Her family assumed that she would never marry and that it was best for her to train to be a house servant. Instead she became a significant astronomer in collaboration with William.
In 1772 she moved to England with her brother William, who had established himself as an organist and music teacher at 19 New King Street, Bath, Somerset (now the Herschel Museum of Astronomy). She took several singing lessons a day from William, who had become the choirmaster of the Octagon Chapel. William was busy with his musical career and became fairly busy organising public concerts. Caroline was the principal singer at his oratorio concerts, and acquired such a reputation as a vocalist that she was offered an engagement for the Birmingham festival which she declined. But it appears that Caroline did not blend in with the local society and made few friends.
William's interest in astronomy started as a hobby to pass time at night. Caroline became as interested as William. William became known for his work on high performance telescopes, and Caroline found herself supporting his efforts. Caroline possessed incredible dexterity in polishing mirrors and mounting telescopes. With time, Caroline learned to copy astronomical catalogues and other publications that William had borrowed. She also learned to record, reduce, and organise her brother’s astronomical observations. She recognised that this work demanded speed and accuracy rather than understanding. However, at William’s insistence, Caroline began to make observations on her own in 1782. This insistence led to many accomplishments. Caroline no longer had to depend solely on her singing to gain satisfaction; rather she was able to contribute to society far more than she had thought she could. William was labelled an astronomer; however, Caroline Herschel was an astronomer in her own right. After taking her brother’s advice to understand astronomy, she discovered more than half a dozen comets in the 1780s and 1790s. Several are named after her in some way. Throughout her writings, she repeatedly makes it clear that she desires to earn an independent wage. When the state began paying her for her assistance to her brother, she became the first woman—at a time when even men rarely received wages for scientific enterprises—to receive a salary for services to science.
When William married a rich widow in 1788, the union caused tension in the brother-sister relationship. Caroline has been referred to as a bitter, jealous woman who worshiped her brother and resented those who invaded their domestic lives. William's new wife made every possible effort to stay on good terms with Caroline, but it was useless; Caroline remained bitter. In his book The Age of Wonder, Richard Holmes takes more the position that the change was in some respects negative for her as she lost managerial and social responsibilities in the house. As she had largely run domestic matters, she may have felt as if she was being displaced in her own home. Because she destroyed her journals from 1788 to 1798, her feelings about the period are not entirely known. Barthélemy Faujas de Saint-Fond indicated she and her brother continued working well during this period. The marriage led to her becoming more independent of her brother and more a figure in her own right. Hence the situation also contributed to her many discoveries. Caroline continued to work solo on many of the astronomical projects which contributed to her rise to fame. After her brother died, she moved back to Hanover, Germany.
William's interest in astronomy started as a hobby to pass time at night. At breakfast the next day he would give an impromptu lecture on what he had learned the night before. Caroline became as interested as William, stating that she was "much hindered in my practice by my help being continually wanted in the execution of the various astronomical contrivances." William became known for his work on high performance telescopes, and Caroline found herself supporting his efforts.
In 1782, William accepted the office of King's Astronomer to George III and moved to Datchet and subsequently to Observatory House near Slough (then in Buckinghamshire, now in Berkshire). The new job proved to be a mixed blessing; although it left him with ample free time to continue his astronomical observations, it also meant a reduction in income and being called upon by the king for entertainment at any time. During this time William perfected his telescope making, building a series of ever larger devices that ultimately ended with his famous 40-foot (12 m) focal length instrument. Caroline was his constant assistant in his observations, also performing the laborious calculations with which they were connected. During one such observation run on the large telescope in 1783, Caroline became caught on an iron hook and when she was helped off "...they could not lift me without leaving nearly 2 ounces [60 g] of my flesh behind."
During her leisure hours she occupied herself with observing the sky with a 27-inch (690 mm) focal length Newtonian telescope and by this means detected a number of astronomical objects during the years 1783 – 87, including most notably an independent discovery of M110 (NGC 205), the second companion of the Andromeda Galaxy. During 1786 – 97 she also discovered eight comets, her first comet being discovered on 1 August 1786. She had unquestioned priority on five of the comets and had rediscovered Comet Encke in 1795. In 1787, she was granted an annual salary of £50 by George III for her work as William's assistant.
In 1797 William's observations had shown that there were a great many discrepancies in the star catalogue published by John Flamsteed, which was difficult to use due to its having been published as two volumes, the catalogue proper and a volume of original observations. William realised that he needed a proper cross-index to properly explore these differences but was reluctant to devote time to it at the expense of his more interesting astronomical activities. He therefore recommended to Caroline that she undertake the task. The resulting Catalogue of Stars was published by the Royal Society in 1798 and contained an index of every observation of every star made by Flamsteed, a list of errata, and a list of more than 560 stars that had not been included.
Caroline returned to Hanover in 1822 following her brother's death, but did not abandon her astronomical studies, continuing to verify and confirm William's findings and producing a catalogue of nebulae to assist her nephew John Herschel in his work. In 1828 the Royal Astronomical Society presented her with their Gold Medal for this work – no woman would be awarded it again until Vera Rubin in 1996.
In 1835, along with Mary Somerville, she was elected to honorary membership of the Royal Astronomical Society; they were the first honorary women members. In 1838 she was also elected as a member of the Royal Irish Academy. In 1846, at the age of 96, she was awarded the Gold Medal for Science by the King of Prussia.
Caroline Herschel died at Hanover on 9 January 1848. She is buried at 35 Marienstrasse in Hanover at the cemetery of the Gartengemeinde.
Herschel was awarded a Gold medal from the Astronomical Society of London, and another from the King of Prussia. The Gold medal was for completion of the reduction and arrangement of all the nebulae and clusters of stars observed by her brother in his sweeps. This also led the Royal Astronomical Society to elect her an Honorary Member.
References and notes
- Nysewander, Melissa. Caroline Herschel. Biographies of Women Mathematicians, Atlanta: Agnes Scott College, 1998.
- The Inimitable Caroline, J. Donald Fernie, American Scientist, November–December 2007, pp. 486–488
- Ashworth, Wilhelm. "Untitled Review." The British Society for the History of Science Vol. 37 No. 3, 2004: 350–351.
- Warner, Deborah. "Review, Untitled." Chicago Journal, 2004: 505.
- Brock, Claire. "Public Experiments." History Workshop Journal, 2004: 306–312.
- Fernie, Donald. "The Inimitable Caroline." American Scientist, 2007: 486–488.
- The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes pages 182–196
- Obituary of Miss Caroline Lucretia Herschel. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 8, p. 65 (1847).
- Obituary of John Francis Encke. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 26, p.131 (1865).
- Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey (1986). Women in Science: Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century. MIT Press. pp. 97–98. ISBN 0-262-65038-X.
- Herschel, John (1879). Memoir and Correspondence of Caroline Herschel. John Murray.
- "Obituary of Miss Caroline Lucretia." Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 8 , 1847: 65.
- Brock, Claire (2007). The Comet Sweeper: Caroline Herschel's Astronomical Ambition. Icon Books Ltd. ISBN 1-84046-720-7.
- Holmes, Richard. The Age of Wonder: The Romantic Generation and the Discovery of the Beauty and Terror of Science (2009) ISBN 978-1-4000-3187-0, extensive coverage of the Herschels
- Hoskin, Michael (2008). "Carolyn Lucretia Herschel". New Dictionary of Scientific Biography 3. Scribners. pp. 286–287.
- Herschel, Mrs. J. F. (1876). Letters and Correspondence of Caroline Herschel. New York: Harpers.
|About Caroline Herschel|
|By Caroline Herschel|
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
- Herschel, Mrs. John (1876). Letters and Correspondence of Caroline Herschel (2 ed.). New York: Harpers.
- O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Caroline Herschel", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews.
- Caroline Lucretia Herschel biography at fembio.org
- Caroline Herschel Biography, SEDS
- Caroline Herschel's Deepsky Objects, SEDS
- About the Herschel Museum of Astronomy
- Obituary of Miss Caroline Lucretia Herschel. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 8, p. 64 (1847).
- Bibliography from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific