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Telescopes from the Ground Up
Portrait of Caroline Herschel Courtesy Royal Astronomical Society

Caroline Herschel was a pioneer of her time — an educated woman who would catalogue stars and nebula and discover comets. She would be the first woman astronomer to earn a salary, acquire honors, and be accepted into scientific organizations.

Caroline moved from Germany to England to join her brother, William Herschel, in 1772. Caroline had been unhappy at home. Her father, who had always encouraged the education of his children, had died. Her mother wasn’t fond of education, and expected Caroline to take care of the house.

William Herschel was a musician, and Caroline was a singer. The two were deeply devoted to one another, and Caroline quickly became involved in her brother’s new obsession — telescopes and astronomy. He taught her math and science, and she tended to him as he spent hours and days grinding telescope mirrors. She helped him record observations from his telescopes and then did the calculations from the data.

When William became the royal astronomer for King George, he gave Caroline her own telescope. She became the first woman to find a comet, and was eventually given a salary as an assistant astronomer to William. She found seven more comets, and began cataloguing stars and nebulae.

Caroline became famous for her scientific work and was awarded a gold medal by the Prussian Academy of Sciences, presented to her by the King of Prussia. She was appointed to the Royal Irish Academy of Sciences and made an honorary member of England’s Royal Astronomical Society.

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