Being born to a unique family with progressive ideas can turn someone into a remarkable individual. Just take a look at the children of writers like Alexandre Dumas or Stephen King, or even those of musicians such as Bob Dylan and John Lennon. All of them followed the steps of their parents and inherited their talents, which have catapulted them to fame and public recognition.
Musician Isaac Herschel, the father of Caroline and William Herschel, devoted his life to giving his children an education that would make them cultivated, wise, and creative people. They would dedicate most of their lives to the study of the Universe and the secrets of life.
Isaac gave them music, astronomy, and language lessons in a time when women had limited possibilities to receive a formal education beyond house tasks. Caroline's mother wanted her daughter to learn only the necessary before getting married, but Caroline refused to follow those steps.
The education that the Herschel siblings received inspired them to discover things beyond this world. For example, William discovered the planet Uranus in 1781, and Caroline was the first woman in science history to discover a comet. Later on, she would find seven more. A fundamental person in her life, besides her father, was her brother, who taught her math, astronomy, and English.
As if this was not enough, she also became a talented soprano thanks to her musical skills. Both Caroline and her brother also had a promising future in music, but their interest changed when William was hired by the English monarchy as the Royal astronomer.
From that moment on, the Herschel siblings moved from their native Hannover to England, where they devoted themselves to the study of the universe. This was the beginning of one of the most important collaborations in the history of astronomy. They invented their own telescopes and recorded their findings. The Herschels had their personal observatory where they developed their research. They discovered double stars, galaxies, and nebulas. Due to her work as William's assistant, Caroline was paid by the Crown, allowing her to be independent –something extraordinary at the time– and be part of the list of the greatest scientists of all times.
As previously mentioned, on August 1, 1786, Caroline discovered a comet, making her the first woman to do so. Unfortunately, many scientists underestimated her finding simply for being a woman.
Caroline wasn't intimidated by the derogatory comments from those judgmental men. Her scientific knowledge was unique and pushed her to discover seven more comets. Without a doubt, Caroline Herschel's ambitions were as vast as the universe itself.
When her brother passed away in 1822, Caroline moved back to Hannover. Six years later she was awarded the golden medal from the Royal Astronomical Society. In 1935 she was admitted as an honorary member of this institution at the age of 85. She received even more prizes: in 1846 she received the Golden Medal for Science from the King of Prussia. She passed away two years later, on January 9, 1848. However her legacy continued when, in 1889, an asteroid was named Lucretia (her middle name) and a lunar crater, C. Herschel.
In the pages of astronomy's history, her name is listed next to other great minds, such as Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler. Herschel abandoned a lifestyle that was thought to be suitable for women in order to devote herself to the investigation and study of space. This is how she broke all gender paradigms and conquered the universe. Now we remember her as one of the most important figures in the history of science.
Mujeres en la historia
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards