Caroline Herschel bigraphy, stories - Astronomer

Caroline Herschel : biography

16 March 1750 - 9 January 1848

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 and she never grew past four foot three. Due to this deformation, her family assumed that she would never marry and that it was best for her to remain a house servant. Instead she became a significant astronomer in collaboration with William.Nysewander, Melissa. Caroline Herschel. Biographies of Women Mathematicians, Atlanta: Agnes Scott College, 1998.

References and notes

Caroline Herschel at age 92

Early life

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 organizing 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.The Inimitable Caroline, J. Donald Fernie, American Scientist, November–December 2007, pp. 486-488

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’s astronomy fit the central aims of the new astronomical society of London established in 1820 better than William. Caroline possessed incredible dexterity Ashworth, Wilhelm. "Untitled Review." The British Society for the History of Science Vol. 37 No. 3, 2004: 350-351. 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 organize her brother’s astronomical observations. She recognized 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.Warner, Deborah. "Review, Untitled." Chicago Journal, 2004: 505. 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 thought she would. William was labeled 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. Brock, Claire. "Public Experiments." History Workshop Journal, 2004: 306-312. 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 this is rewarded by the state for her assistance to her brother, she becomes 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, it 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. This view indicates when he married, Caroline was always upset. William's new wife made every possible effort to stay on good terms with Caroline, but it was useless, Caroline remained bitter.Fernie, Donald. "The Inimitable Caroline." American Scientist, 2007: 486-488. 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 ran domestic matters she may have felt, in some sense, as if she was being displaced in her own home. Although she destroyed her journals from 1788 to 1798 so her feelings about the period are not entirely known. Further 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.The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes pages 182-196 Hence the situation also contributed to her many discoveries. In the event that her brother became occupied with a wife, 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 Hannover Germany.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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