Caroline Herschel was a German-British astronomer and contributed significantly in the field of Astronomy. She was known to be a bubbly personality and even though she was only four foot three in height, her vibrant personality is said to have wowed countless people during her time. Her most significant contributions have been the discoveries of comets and particularly, her help in the discovery of Planet Uranus. Although Herschel was struck with typhus at a young age, she was believed to have been very fond of her telescopes. History states, that in her free time, Herschel would occupy herself by gazing at the stars and looking into the sky with her favorite Newtonian telescope. Apart from detecting a number of astronomical objects through her career, she even published some of her works. ‘The Catalogue of Stars’ is one such publication that was published in the Royal Society of Astronomy. Read on to know more about this intriguing personality.
Childhood And Early Life
Caroline Herschel was born in Hanover on March 16, 1750. The fifth of six children of Isaac Herschel and Anna Ilse Moritzen, Herschel was believed to have lived through a tough childhood. Since the family was not very well-off, Herschel’s father could only afford a rudimentary education, despite being oppressed by his wife. The first half of Caroline’s life was filled with pain and misery. She suffered a number of childhood diseases that scared her for life. In one such incident, she was diagnosed with Typhus at the age of 10, besides already suffering from facial scars and a disfigured eye. Because of these problems, her father believed that no one would want to marry her and her mother decided to use their daughter as a maid.
It was Herschel’s brother’s love for his sister that saved her from these miseries. Freidrich Wilhelm (later changed his name to William), was her brother and cared for Herschel a lot. He had moved to London earlier and established himself as a musician. On a visit to Hanover, he decided to rescue his sister from the talons of misery. He brought her back with him on his return to England. Here, he tried to educate his sister and taught her music. She had a decent voice, and she was known around all the major opera-houses in the country. When William slowly shifted his focus toward astronomy, he decided to make his younger sister his assistant. Although Herschel never knew the multiplication tables by heart, it was she who helped her brother to solve complex mathematical problems in astronomy. This was the beginning of a fruitful career for Herschel.
What William started as a part-time hobby, would finally decide the fate of Herschel’s future. Caroline Herschel became just as interested in the subject as her brother, William. William had a fair idea of how to use really powerful telescopes, and Herschel used to encourage his efforts. Slowly, Herschel found that she was engaging herself usefully in the field of astronomy. She would record, reduce and assist her brother, during his observations. She possessed unbelievable agility when it came to mounting telescopes, polishing them and even recording sightings. With time, Herschel had mastered astronomical catalogues that William had borrowed from external sources. She began to get more accurate in her findings, which required accuracy and speed. She was getting better in her brother’s eyes and her eyes, and under William’s insistence, Herschel began to record observations on her own in 1782.
This was the first step to an array of accomplishments through her future. Caroline realized that singing was no longer her only passion, and that she had finally found something new and enjoyable to concentrate on. Although her brother was labeled an astronomer, Herschel gained her own fame. Between 1780 to 1790, Herschel discovered over a dozen comets and some of them were even named after her. Throughout her discoveries, she aimed to earn her own wages, and in the 18th century, she was the first woman to have received independent wages for her contributions to science. After a few personal rifts between her brother, Herschel decided to go solo with her astronomical observations that contributed to her soaring success in the field of astronomy. Caroline Herschel also rediscovered a certain comet called Comet Encke in 1795. Herschel also printed the ‘Catalogue of Stars’, which was published in the Royal Society of Astronomy in 1798.
The Royal Astronomical Society presented her with a Gold Medal for her astronomical work.
She was elected to honorary membership at the Royal Astronomical Society in 1835.
She was also elected as a fellow at the Royal Irish Academy in 1838.
Herschel was awarded the Gold Medal for Science by the King of Prussia in 1846.
Discovered the three nebulae
Apart from suffering from severe illnesses as a child, Herschel was very protective of her brother. She felt abandoned after her brother married. She felt as though she had lost the importance in his life, and remained on bitter terms with him. She faced a great loss after her brother died, and moved back to Germany after this incident.
Death And Legacy
Caroline Herschel died on January 9, 1848 in Hanover, Germany. A poem, ‘Planetarium’ was written to celebrate her scientific achievements through her life, and 5 asteroids were name after her. She was also one of the first women to achieve the title of ‘first lady’s comet’.
1750: Caroline Herschel was born in Hanover, Germany on 16th March.
1786: Discovered the Comet Herschel.
1787: Herschel accepted the position as paid assistant to her astronomer brother, William.
1797: She discovered the Comet Bouvard-Herschel.
1799: The Royal Astronomical Society published her catalogues.
1822: She returned to Hanover post her brother’s death.
1828: She is awarded with the prestigious Gold Medal by the Royal Astronomical Society.
1835: She received honorary membership at the Royal Astronomical Society.
1846: She is awarded a Gold Medal by the King of Prussia for her scientific efforts.
1848: Caroline Herschel passed away on 9th January in Hanover, Germany.