Person: Herschel (2), Caroline
Caroline Herschel recorded the observations and did the calculations on the data of her astronomer brother William.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Caroline could never have thought in her wildest dreams that one day she would make a major contribution to the study of comets.
- In 1760 Isaac returned home in poor health and Caroline essentially lived the life of a servant until he died in 1767.
- In 1766 William became an organist in Bath and, in 1772, Caroline joined him there.
- William taught Caroline more than musical skills.
- Now he began to teach Caroline English and mathematics while he himself became more and more involved with astronomy.
- In addition to her singing, Caroline helped William with his musical activities and looked after him while he spent many hours with his new hobby of constructing telescopes.
- Slowly Caroline turned more and more towards helping William with his astronomical activities while he continued to teach her algebra, geometry and trigonometry.
- In particular Caroline studied spherical trigonometry which would be important for reducing astronomical observations.
- Almost inevitably Caroline's role changed from looking after William to helping him with his scientific activities which soon occupied every available moment.
- Giving up their musical activities the Herschels moved to Datchet in August 1782 where they remained until June 1785 when they moved again, this time into Clay Hall, near Windsor.
- It was certainly not without many regrets that Caroline abandoned music and began to take an active part in astronomy.
- Caroline found much less time than she expected to make her own observations as she became fully involved helping William with his astronomical projects.
- By day Caroline would work on the results obtained by William while observing on the previous night.
- Only when William was away from home was Caroline able to spend much time with her own program of research.
- In April 1786 William and Caroline moved to a new home they called Observatory House which was in Slough and there, on 1 August 1786, Caroline discovered her first comet which was described by some as the "first lady's comet".
- This discovery brought Caroline a certain degree of fame and articles were written about her.
- Eventually the relationship between the two ladies - Mary and Caroline - warmed ...
- However, as the relationship between the two ladies improved, Caroline regretted her bitter comments against Mary and she destroyed every page of her diary over this time in her life.
- In total Caroline discovered eight comets between 1786 and 1797 and she then embarked on a new project of cross-referencing and correcting the star catalogue which had been produced by Flamsteed.
- In 1798 Caroline submitted to the Royal Society an Index to Flamsteed's Observations of the Fixed Stars together with a list of 560 stars which had been omitted.
- This period of 25 years was not one which lacked interest for Caroline.
- John Herschel spent long periods with his aunt during the vacations and was greatly influenced by Caroline.
- Caroline continued to assist William with his observations but her status had greatly improved from the housekeeper she had been in her young days.
- Caroline returned to Hanover after William's death in 1822.
- Although Caroline regretted spending her last 25 years in Hanover there were many compensations.
- Caroline Herschel received many honours for her scientific achievements.
Born 16 March 1750, Hannover, Hanover (now Germany). Died 9 January 1848, Hannover, Hanover (now Germany).
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Tags relevant for this person:
Astronomy, Origin Germany, Physics, Women
Thank you to the contributors under CC BY-SA 4.0!
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive