- This event has passed.
Caroline Herschel’s Birthday
An event every year that begins at 12:00 am on day 16 of March, repeating indefinitely
(b. 1750, Hannover, Germany; d. 1848, Hannover, Germany)
Caroline Herschel was a pioneering female astronomer, and the first woman to discover a comet. Her achievements enabled generations of women to develop a career in the sciences, a field that was once exclusively reserved for men.
Herschel grew up in Hannover, Germany, with ten siblings. Her father valued education so highly that he educated Herschel against her mother’s wishes, and she proved to be an apt pupil. At age ten, she contracted typhus, a disease that would permanently stunt her growth at four-foot-three. When she was twenty-two, she moved to Bath, England, to live with her brother William and become his housekeeper. While there, she continued the studies in music and mathematics that she began as a child, and developed a keen interest in her brother’s hobby, astronomy.
She began as her brother’s apprentice, grinding and polishing mirrors for his burgeoning telescope business. Her new-found passion developed into a career and she soon became an astronomer in her own right. William gave Herschel her first Newtonian telescope, which she used to discover three new nebulae in 1783. She went on to identify eight new comets between the years of 1786 and 1797, her first being Comet Herschel (C/1786 P1). She was the first woman to discover a comet and until the 1980s, she held the record for the most comets discovered by a women.
When Herschel was 32, King George III appointed her brother William as his personal astronomer, with an annual pension of two hundred pounds. Herschel received fifty pounds annually to be her brother’s assistant, making her the first woman in science to receive recognition for her academic work and research. It is thought that Herschel quite possibly did more work than her brother. In addition to her work as William’s assistant, she also performed the exhaustive calculations that accompanied their research and documented each of their trials and results.
Herschel mapped out the exact placement of both her and William’s discoveries, including the planet Uranus as well as numerous clusters, comets, and nebulae, and published them after William’s death in 1822. Upon receiving the catalogue, the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Irish Academy made her the first female honorary member in 1835. In 1846, Herschel was recognized for a lifetime of devotion and achievement in the field of astronomy with the King of Prussia’s Gold Medal of Science. She died two years later, at the age of ninety-eight, well-received in society and highly recognized for her talents