CHerschel

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"However long we live, life is short, so I work. And however important man becomes, he is nothing compared to the stars. There are secrets, dear sister, and it is for us to reveal them."
Caroline Herschel

Caroline Herschel - Celestial Cinderella
The story of Caroline Lucretia Hershel is a Cinderella fairy tale. But it wasn’t a prince bearing a glass slipper that changed her life. It was the glass of telescopes and a prince of a brother that saved her from a cindery existence.

Caroline, nicknamed Lina, was born in Hanover, Germany on March 16, 1750, the fifth of six children of Isaac Herschel and Anna Ilse Moritzen. Isaac, an oboist and gardener, gave his daughter a rudimentary education, despite his wife's disapproval.

Caroline suffered childhood diseases which scarred her for life. At age three, her cheeks were scar-pocked and her left eye was slightly disfigured by Smallpox. Her diminutive height of 4'3" was caused by Typhus at the age of 10. Her father told her she would never marry and her mother's plans for her were that of maid.

When Caroline was 22, it was her favorite brother, Freidrich Wilhelm (nicknamed Fritz and later known as William), who rescued her from a dreary existence as their mother's scullery maid. He had moved to England seven years earlier where he had made a life for himself as a musician. On a visit to Hanover, he vowed to save his dear "Lina" and brought her with him upon his return to Bath, England.

William taught his petite sister music and helped her develop her voice. Though she would only sing where her brother conducted, she was well regarded in her own right throughout the opera houses in England.

But it is not her music for which Caroline took her place in history. When William turned his eye to astronomy, he trained his sister to be his assistant. Although Caroline never memorized her multiplication tables, it was she who did the complicated calculations from her brother's observations.

In 1781, William discovered the planet Uranus and astronomy became his livelihood, with his sister by his side. It was only while William was away that Caroline was able to make her own observations, discoveries which guaranteed her place in history.

On August 1, 1786, Caroline discovered her first comet and became history's first woman with this distinction. Her comet came to be known as the "first lady's comet" and brought with it the fame that secured her own place in history books.

Caroline was rescued by her prince of a brother and found salvation through the glass of a telescope. She is one of the few historical women astronomers whose life is well documented, so we will end her fairy tale story here. Below are links with additional information, as well as a short biography.

Biography
Here are some of the major highlights of Caroline's illustrious life. See below for links on the Web to other biographies.

bullet1750 - March 16, born in Hanover, Germany
bullet1772 - Moves to Bath, England with brother, William
bullet1783 - Discovered three nebulae
bullet1786 - August 1, Discovers Comet Herschel (C/1786 P1)
bullet1787 - Became the paid assistant for her brother by King George III
bullet1788 - December 21, discovers Comet Herschel-Rigollet (35P)
bullet1790 - January 7, discovers Comet Herschel (C/1790 A1)
bullet1790 - April 18, discovers Comet Herschel (C/1790 H1)
bullet1791 - December 15, discovers Comet Herschel (C/1791 X1)
bullet1797 - August 14, discovers Comet Bouvard-Herschel (C/1797 P1)
bullet1799 - The Royal Society publishes her star catalogs
bullet1822 - Returns to Hanover after William's death
bullet1828 - The Royal Astronomical Society awards her the Gold Medal
bullet1832 - King of Denmark honors her discoveries with a medal
bullet1835 - Royal Astronomical Society awards honorary membership, along with Mary Somerville
bullet1838 - Royal Irish Academy awards honorary membership
bullet1846 - King of Prussia awards gold medal for science
bullet1848 - January 9, dies in Hanover, Germany

Links on the Web

There are many sites on the Web about Caroline Herschel. Here are a few we found of interest. A search, using your favorite search engine, will find many more.

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The Comets of Caroline Herschel - a great list with historical data of Caroline's comet discoveries by Greg Bryant

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Caroline Herschel - a short biography by the Women's History powered by The History Net

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Maria Mitchell's Reminiscences of the Herschels - America's first woman astronomer discusses Europe's most famous woman astronomer

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Caroline Herschel: astronomer and scientist - a short biography by Patricia Chadwick

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Caroline Lucretia Herschel - another short biography by Jon Hays

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Caroline Lucretia Herschel - a biography from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, written by J. J. O'Connor and E. F. Robertson

 

Updated 01.01.2008
theWoman Astronomer © 2001-2008

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