Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on TwitterCaroline Lucretia Herschel was an astronomer who was born on March 16, 1750 and died on January 9, 1848). She was the sister of William Herschel. She was the first woman to discover a comet. She discovered several comets during her career, including the periodic comet 35P/Herschel-Rigollet. She was the first woman to paid for scientific contributions, and the first woman to win the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal, a feat that would not be duplicated for more than 170 years.
Caroline, like her brother William developed an interest in astronomy as a hobby. As William became known his work with high performance telescopes, Caroline began assisting him. Her incredible dexterity came in handy for polishing mirrors and mounting telescopes. 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. In 1782, Caroline began making personal observations, after much encouragement from her brother. That encouragement led to her discovering more than half a dozen comets in the 1780s and 1790s. Each of these bears her name in some form. Her discoveries eventually led to her becoming the first woman to receive a wage for being an astronomer.
Her discoveries included an independent discovery of M110 (NGC 205), eight comets, and the rediscovery of Comet Encke in 1795. William Herschel discovered many discrepancies in the star catalog published by John Flamsteed. He realized that he needed an accurate cross-index in order to properly explore these differences. He asked Caroline to take on this task, thus she published a catalog that included an index of Flamsteed’s observations and errors and a list of 560 new stars. She also produced a catalog of nebulae while assisting her nephew John Herschel.
We have written many articles about Caroline Herschel for Universe Today. Here’s an article about Sir William Herschel, and here’s an article about Cassiopeia.
We’ve also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast about the nebula. Listen here, NASA