Caroline Herschel

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Caroline Lucretia Herschel
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Caroline Lucretia Herschel

Caroline Lucretia Herschel (March 16 1750January 9 1848) was a German-born English astronomer. She worked with her brother Sir William Herschel. Her main contribution to astronomy was the discovery of some new comets. In particular, the periodic comet 35P/Herschel-Rigollet bears her name.

Herschel was born in Hanover. In the autumn of 1772 she joined her brother William in England, where he had established himself as a teacher of music at Bath. She co-operated with him both in his professional duties and in the astronomical researches to which he had already begun to devote all his spare time. She was the principal singer at his oratorio concerts, and acquired such a reputation as a vocalist that she was offered an engagement for the Birmingham festival, which, however, she declined.

In 1782 her brother accepted the office of astronomer to George III and moved to the Slough area. Caroline became his constant assistant in his observations, and also executed the laborious calculations which were connected with them. Her chief amusement during her leisure hours was sweeping the heavens with a small Newtonian telescope. By this means she detected in 1783 three remarkable nebulae, and during the eleven years 17861797 eight comets, five of them with unquestioned priority — among them Comet Encke. Her first comet, discovered on August 1 1786, was the first comet discovered by a woman, and won her recognition. The following year she began to receive an annual salary from George III for her work as William's assistant, which made her the first woman officially recognized for a scientific position. In 1797 she presented to the Royal Society an Index to Flamsteed's observations, together with a catalogue of 561 stars accidentally omitted from the British Catalogue, and a list of the errata in that publication.

She returned to Hanover in 1822 after the death of her brother, but did not abandon her astronomical studies, and in 1828 she completed the reduction, to January 1800, of 2500 nebulae discovered by her brother. In 1828 the Royal Astronomical Society presented her with their Gold Medal, and in 1835 elected her an honorary member of the society. In 1846 she received a gold medal from the King of Prussia.

The asteroid 281 Lucretia was named after her second given name, also a lunar crater in the Sinus Iridium was named Caroline Herschel in her honor.


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