How Female Computers Mapped the Universe and Brought America to the Moon | Atlas Obscura

The group of women computers at the Harvard College Observatory, who worked for the astronomer Edward Charles Pickering, c. 1890. (Photo: Harvard College Observatory/Public Domain)

Teams of female scientists made critical breakthroughs in astronomy and mathematics–but it was decades before they’d get credit for them.

At Harvard Observatory in the late 1800s, the hum of over a dozen computers buzzed from the busy astronomy calculation room. Devising complex calculations to map the stars, the computers worked in skirts and corsets, gripping their pencils at thick wooden desks. If you haven’t guessed, these computers were not the sort we think of today, but were…

Source: How Female Computers Mapped the Universe and Brought America to the Moon | Atlas Obscura

The Great Moon Hoax Was Simply a Sign of Its Time | At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian

Originally posted in the Smithsonian.

The Great Moon Hoax

From the Italian version of The Great Moon Hoax. Leopoldo Galluzzo, Altre scoverte fatte nella luna dal Sigr. Herschel (Other lunar discoveries from Signor Herschel), Napoli, 1836 (Smithsonian Institution Libraries)

Anyone who opened the pages of the New York Sun on Tuesday, August 25, 1835, had no idea they were reading an early work of science fiction—and one of the greatest hoaxes of all time.

In that issue began a six-part series, now known as the Great Moon Hoax, that described the findings of Sir John Herschel, a real English astronomer who had traveled to the Cape of Good Hope in 1834 to catalog the stars of the Southern Hemisphere. But according to the Sun, Herschel found far more than stars through the lens of his telescope.

The 19th century was “the time before we knew everything,” says Kirsten van der Veen of the Smithsonian Institution’s Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology. “Science was very accessible,” she says. Common people of the time could easily read about scientific discoveries and expeditions to far-off places in the pages of newspapers, magazines and books. So the Herschel tale was not an odd thing to find in the daily paper. And that the series was supposedly a supplement to the…

via The Great Moon Hoax Was Simply a Sign of Its Time | At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian.

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.