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First Comet Recorder

On March 16, 1750, astronomer Caroline Lucretia Herschel was born in Germany. She had a bad health childhood that included smallpox and Typhus that left her with a slightly scarred face and shorter than a parking meter. Her parents kept her at home as the family handywoman/maid.

Fortunately for her, she had a brilliant and loving brother, Frederick William Herschel. “Fritz” was 12 years older, had moved to England and had already made a name for himself in Bath, England. He sent for her and taught and trained her to do many things – from singing solo when he conducted the orchestra to assisting observations when he took up astronomy. She shone.

While her brother became one of the great astronomers of his time, she did the mathematical calculations and helped grind and polish mirrors for his telescopes. He gave her telescope time during which she made her own discoveries – over a dozen nebulae. When he gave her her own telescope, she found “Comet Herschel”. She was soon her brother’s paid assistant, eventually discovering seven more comets. The Royal Society published her star catalogues

After her brother died, Herschel retired to Germany where she completed a catalogue of celestial discoveries she and her brother had made. She was presented a Gold Medal from both the Royal Astronomical Society and from the King of Prussia. Herschel, along with self-taught mathematician Mary Somerville, were the first women appointed to honorary membership in the Royal Society.

Herschel’s discoveries and publications established a science credit for women who would later enter astronomy. From the time Herschel discovered her last comet, it would take another 200 years before her record for comet discoveries was surpassed when another brilliant Carolyn (Shoemaker) established the current record.

B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage