The History Girls: ‘Sister of the more famous William’: some reflections on the life and career of Caroline Herschel by Christina Koning

With comets very much in the news these past few days, following the spectacular success of the Rosetta mission, I’m been thinking some more about Caroline Herschel (1750-1848), the first professional female astronomer, and the subject of my 2011 novel, Variable Stars. Between 1786 and 1797, Herschel discovered eight comets – one of which (35P/Herschel-Rigollet) bears her name. There is also an asteroid (281 Lucretia) named after her, as well as a crater on the Moon (C. Herschel). During her long life – she lived to be 97 – she was also responsible for cataloguing over 2,500 nebulae, an achievement for which she was awarded not one, but two, gold medals. She fraternised with the most eminent astronomers of the age, and was described by one of them, the German astronomer Karl Felix Seyffer, as the ‘most noble and worthy priestess of the new heavens’. She was, in a word, something of a superstar.

With so starry a C.V., it may seem surprising that Caroline Herschel is not better known, but in spite of her achievements, she remains a relatively obscure figure. The reason for this is not hard to find. For, remarkable as it was, Caroline Herschel’s life has been largely overshadowed by that of her brother, William – discoverer, in 1781, of the planet Uranus. As William Herschel’s assistant and amanuensis, Caroline might also be said to have contributed to this discovery, and to others that followed, such as the discovery of infra-red radiation. However, the fact remains that, when her existence is acknowledged at all, she is often dismissed as no more than a…

via The History Girls: ‘Sister of the more famous William’: some reflections on the life and career of Caroline Herschel by Christina Koning.

2 thoughts on “The History Girls: ‘Sister of the more famous William’: some reflections on the life and career of Caroline Herschel by Christina Koning

  1. A rare tale of female involvement in astronomy from its earliest days. Riding from Slough to Greenwich at night on a horse as well, a feat in itself! She seems to have been a remarkable woman indeed, and her story could inspire other female astronomers in-waiting.
    (This article also uses the amazing word ‘amanuensis’, only the third time I can ever recall seeing it written.)
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.