High School Space and Planetary Sciences TSS

Caroline Herschel: A Cinderella Story

Discover how one woman defied the odds and revolutionized to field of astronomy.

 

carolineherschel2 (1)
Image From: https://www.sciencesource.com/archive/William-and-Caroline-Herschel–German-Astronomers-SS2590792.html

 

Known as astronomy’s Cinderella, Caroline Herschel was a notable female astronomer during a time when women were often regarded as housewives and mothers. She defied numerous stereotypes and paved the path for future female scientists  (4). This princess would go on to create a place for women in STEM fields and revolutionize the field of astronomy.

Herschel’s life began normally in 1750 when she was born into a family of musicians (2). As the only girl, her mother wanted Caroline to become a seamstress. Caroline’s mother believed that a young woman needed only practical education in chores and housekeeping, However, her father had other plans to help her receive formal music training as a singer. At the age of 22, she traveled with her brother to the city of Bath to serve as his housekeeper as he served as an organist and conductor (1). While her brother occasionally lets her perform solos at his concerts, Herschel quickly showed her talent and earned the position of the first singer, assumed a managerial role in the chorus, and received offers to perform in other cities. It was clear that she had a promising future in music.

However, both young Herschel musicians were becoming increasingly interested in astronomy. In addition to her growing music career and housekeeping duties, Caroline now devoted herself to the study of the sky. She helped her brother produce reflecting telescopes, ground and polished the mirrors (a task that required absolute accuracy), and occupied herself with astronomical theory. She mastered algebra and formulas for calculation and conversion as a basis for observing the stars and measuring astronomical distances (1). Through self-education and persistence, Caroline Herschel proved once again that women have a place among the elite if they are relentless and well trained (4).

In 1781, her brother discovered the planet Uranus by accident, which gained him international fame and a position on the royal astronomical court (2). Caroline was offered a position as his assistant. Although it was difficult for her to choose between her passion for music or astronomy, she eventually chose to delve into the field of astronomy. She was paid 50 pounds an hour and could conduct her own research. This was an incredible feat; no other woman had ever been paid for scientific discovery and exploration before her (4).

 

carolineherschelcolor
Image from: https://www.sciencesource.com/archive/William-and-Caroline-Herschel–German-Astronomers-SS2590792.html

 

She chose to study comets. In the time between 1786 to 1797, she discovered eight new comets and had mapped them (2). At this time, she was the first female to discover a comet (4). She worked incredibly hard observing the universe. She noted the positions of the stars through a giant telescope she had built with her brother. In addition, she evaluated the nocturnal notations and recalculated them, wrote treatises for Philosophical Transactions, discovered fourteen nebulae, calculated hundreds of more nebulae, and began a catalog for star clusters and nebular patches (3). In addition, she compiled a supplemental catalog to Flamsteed’s Atlas which included 561 stars, as well as a comprehensive index to it which greatly aided other scientists and is still used today (3).

When William passed away, she returned to her childhood home in Hanover, Massatuchets where she lived out the rest of her days still searching the sky. On January 9, 1948, she passed away, but her Cinderella story lives on (4). Not only did Caroline Herschel greatly expanded our knowledge of the universe and the patterns of the stars; she also defied gender boundaries and trailblazed the way for future women scientists. Caroline Herschel is an inspiration and role model who deserves to be admired for her relentless devotion to her work and her consistent modesty. Caroline improved society by making it a more accepting and inclusive whole expanding the scientific body of knowledge. She created the path that female scientists, engineers, and mathematicians now walk on. Now that’s a princess story women can stand behind.

Sources:

  1. https://www.space.com/17439-caroline-herschel.html
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caroline_Herschel
  3. https://starchild.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/StarChild/whos_who_level2/herschel.html
  4. https://revolutionfeministe.wordpress.com/2016/07/03/carolina-lucretia-herschel-from-servitude-and-self-education-to-academic-authority-a-life-of-choices-or-a-life-of-adaptation/

 

My name is Ellie Hummel and I'm a sophomore at DuPont Manual High School in Louisville, Ky. I am a contributor for The Student Scientist. I love biology research and computer programming and hope to spread these passions to others through my writing. Over the course of the past three years, I have researched spinal cord injuries and axon growth. I also work for STEMY, a local non-profit dedicated to providing STEM resources to youth and lead my school's SNHS and HOSA chapters. In my free time, I play with my dog, Harry, and coach swim lessons.

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