Who on Earth is Caroline Herschel?

By Gary Cutlack on at

The male hierarchy of Google has thought of a woman who did something good in science again, using today's search results page-topping Doodle to illustrate the life and work of Caroline Herschel. The surname's a clue. There are some big lumps of rock in space named after her.

Maker Of American Chocolate That Tastes A Bit Like Sick?

No, that's Hershey's. According to Google, Caroline Herschel is celebrating her 266th Birthday today, making her the oldest woman in the... oh wait. No, she died. Wikipedia says she died. She was born on March 16, 1750, and made it to the quite stonking old age of 97, back in the days when being 97 was practically the same as being immortal.

So She's Famous For Being Old Once?

No, she's famous for being the sister of astronomer Sir William Herschel, and then in her own right later became known as the Comet Chaser thanks to discovering eight comets spinning about up there. She was also the first female astronomer on the national payroll, which was quite the feat for a woman back in those days when women weren't much more than the silently fussing Roombas of the day.

One Of The UK's Many Fine Scientists, Then!

No, she was German, born in Hanover. But she did sort of become one of us via immigration, after being moved to Bath by brother William, under the auspices of becoming working musicians and singers. But that fell by the wayside as William dumped variety for astronomy, a bit like how Brian Cox used to be one of the Pet Shop Boys and Brian May was Cher, and Caroline followed into looking up for inspiration.

Hooray For The Immigrants!

Caroline and William, in their fashionably royal German accents, worked together for years, charting the then-new phenomenon of nebulae and star clusters, eventually recording 2,500 objects outside of our solar system. When Caroline was placed on the King's payroll alongside William, National Geographic notes that "her salary was only a quarter of her brother’s" -- meaning she did all of her astronomy through the opaque lens of one of the first metaphorical glass ceilings, which must've made it all so much harder.

Has She By Any Chance Been Immortalised In The Stars?

Why yes, she's got a particularly unglamorous crater on the moon named after her, and a comet takes her middle name -- plus she's a satellite telescope too. [Google]

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