8 Stellar Facts About the Most Accomplished Female Astronomer You’ve Never Heard Of
Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) was a German woman who made great contributions to science and astronomy.
1. SHE WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO DISCOVER A COMET.
Herschel spotted the comet (called 35P/Herschel-Rigollet) in December of 1788. Because its orbital period is 155 years, 35P/Herschel-Rigollet will next be visible to humans in the year 2092.
2. SHE INITIALLY WORKED AS A HOUSEKEEPER.
In her early twenties, Herschel moved from Germany to England to be a singer. Her brother William (the astronomer who discovered the planet Uranus and infrared radiation) gave her singing lessons, and she was his housekeeper. She later became his assistant, grinding and polishing the mirrors for his telescopes.
3. BUT SHE LATER TURNED HER REAL PASSION INTO A PAYING GIG.
Herschel was the first female scientist to ever be paid for her work. Starting in 1787, King George III paid her £50 per year to reward her for her scientific discoveries.
4. SHE WAS TECHNICALLY A LITTLE PERSON.
Herschel was only 4 feet 3 inches tall—her growth was stunted due to typhus when she was 10 years old.
5. SHE BROKE BARRIERS, EARNING RESPECT FROM THE HERETOFORE MALE-ONLY SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY.
Herschel was the first woman to receive a Gold Medal from London’s Royal Astronomical Society, in 1828. The second woman to receive one was well over 150 years later, in 1996.
6. SHE CHEATED AT MATH ... KIND OF.
Because Herschel was female and thus wasn’t allowed to learn math as a child, she used a cheat sheet with the multiplication tables on it when she was working.
7. EARTH'S MOON HONORS HER LEGACY.
A crater on the moon is named in honor of Herschel—it’s called C. Herschel. The small crater is located on the west side of Mare Imbrium, one of the moon's large rocky plains.
8. SHE GARNERED AWARDS WELL INTO HER NINETIES.
For her 96th birthday, Prussian King Frederick William IV authorized that Herschel receive an award: the Gold Medal for Science.