Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Caroline Herschel

Just a quick blog and a bit of a departure from the usual Fringe Festival ramblings.

It's Ada Lovelace Day when we celebrate pioneering women working in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). So it shouldn't go past without mention of Caroline Herschel, sister of the more celebrated astronomer, William Herschel.

Typhus and smallpox as a child left Caroline scarred and with permanently stunted growth. As a result she wasn't expected to get married so became her brother's housekeeper, astronomical assistant and finally a renowned astronomer in her own right.

Caroline worked alongside William on long nights out of doors making observations of the stars through his home made telescopes. As well as assisting her brother she carried out the complex calculations to confirm his findings.

She used her own 'sweeper' telescopes designed to look for moving objects in the night sky and is credited with the discovery of several comets, and her meticulous observations and calculations led her to update and correct Flamsteed's famous Star Catalogue, with her edition being published by the Royal Society at their expense.

Taken seriously in her lifetime she was awarded the Gold Medal by the Royal Astronomical Society in 1828 - not subsequently awarded to another woman until 1996. There is even a crater on the moon named after her.

For much more on Caroline Herschel, her brother and the scientists and scientific advances of the period read Richard Holmes' great book Age of Wonder.

No comments:

Post a Comment