HERSCHEL, CAROLINE LUCRETIA

Astronomer (1750-1848)

It was during this time that the real Solar System was discovered by the computation of precise orbits of the planets and comets (such as Halley's Comet). The Copernican Revolution had finally come into its own. Sir William Herschel was a musician and astronomer. He discovered the planet Uranus, made several star catalogs, and mapped out the Milky Way. To help with all this he had a faithful assistant, his sister, Caroline Lucretia Herschel (1750 - 1848 CE). She was an accomplished astronomer in her own right, discovering eight comets. She helped her brother in all his duties from telescope lens grinding to observing the stars at night. After the discovery of Uranus she received a government salary of 50 a year for her work. She was, perhaps, the first woman to hold a government position in England. The two, brother and sister, made a remarkable team. Their home in Bath, England is a now a museum. Although she was an indefatigable astronomer, she was not entirely pleased at the mess her brother's experiments made of their home. He built all the equipment they used. She wrote "It was to my sorrow that I saw almost every room in the house turned into a workshop." Caroline had a number of works published including A catalogue of eight hundred and sixty stars observed by Flamsteed but not included in the British Catalogue and A general index of reference to every observation of every star in the above-mentioned British Catalogue. She received a gold medal in 1828 from the Royal Society for her work The reduction and arrangement in the form of catalogue, in zones, of all the star-clusters and nebulae observed by Sir W. Herschel in his sweeps. These catalogs formed the basis for the modern catalogs used in astronomy today. She received two other gold medals - one from the King of Denmark and one from the King of Prussia. In 1835 she was elected, along with Mary Sommerville, an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society. They were the first two women so honored. Three years later she was elected an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy. Her epitaph, composed by herself, contains the following:

"The eyes of her who is glorified were here below turned to the starry heavens. Her own discoveries of comets and her participation in the immortal labors of her brother, William Herschel, bear witness of this to future ages."

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