(1750 – 1848)
DJ Name: DJ COMETkaze
In 2012, Rihanna said “shine bright like a diamond.” But before that, Caroline Herschel said “shine bright like a star shooting across the sky at a velocity of 11 kilmoters per second.” Approximately. Caroline knew all about math and calculations and stuff, not because Jaime Escalante taught her, but because she studied the night sky through her Newtonian telescope. Her eyes scanned the skies looking for comets, mapping out planets and spotting nebulae, making her the first woman to earn a paycheck doing so. But she wasn’t doing it for the money or the fame or for Rihanna’s alleged diamonds — she was doing it because she really freakin’ loved Skyence.
Stargazing efforts couldn’t happen without some sky-high hits, so DJ COMETkaze made a quick Spotify appearance and whipped this playlist together for her fans (you all) and outer space or night sky ~might~, naturally, be a theme (without shame):
Caroline Lucretia Herschel was born on March 16, 1780, to parents Isaac and Anna in Hanover, Germany. She grew up one of more kids than there are stars in the sky. Jk, she was one of 10. When Caroline reached the age of 10, she was diagnosed with typhus. Though her scholarly reaches were sky high, her height never surpassed 4’3” and she lost vision in her left eye due to her illness. This didn’t stop her, though. From a young age, Caroline was especially inspired by her father, Isaac. He was an oboist and bandmaster in the Hanovarian Foot Guards.
Isaac’s lack of a formal education didn’t stop him from educating his own kids. He wanted to teach his sons and his daughters the same knowledge, factoids and lessons, but wifey Anna did not believe that girls went go to college to get more knowledge and boys went to Jupiter to get more stupider. She actually believed quite the opposite, and wanted her daughters educated with more hot household tips — not topics like philosophy or math. Where would that get them? Math is dumb!
But against her wishes, Isaac continued his teachings and lively lessons about equations and human subjectivity (~fancy~). Always the intuitive Pisces, Caroline listened to her father from an early age and reaped a spirit for learning (and dreaming) — particularly when it came to science. Isaac encouraged Caroline to shoot for the moon and land amongst the stars (lol) or whatever else was out there, so that she eventually did — with a telescope, guidance from her big bro and funding from top dog financiers like sugar daddy King George III.
Sadly, Isaac passed after returning home in poor health from his fight against the French during their occupation of Hanover. The death of her father reminded Caroline of the night they spent together while she was a young gal as she looked up at the stars and said, “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may; I wish I might; Have the wish I wish tonight (Which was obviously to be a superstar scientist who studies the flashing lights in the night sky. Okay, well — we’re not really sure if that’s truly the case. For the sake of her wish coming true, she didn’t write it down during her “Dear Diary” moments or share it with anyone, duh! But if we had to guess…that’s it.)
So, Caroline eventually left Germany and met up with her big bro, William, in Bath, England. Willy took after his father’s musical talent and found work as an organist. When Caroline arrived she, too, tapped into her musical talents as a singer and soon enough was selling out venues left and right. She even turned down a festival invite! She was ~Coachella~ ready hundreds of years before the first ever weekend 1. What the heck, DJ COMETkaze! The gal clearly had an ear for the tunes and eye for the sky. Speaking of the sky…
Caroline and William became the dream team of astronomy. It all started with Willy’s spare time. He dabbled in the dark arts of math, science and astronomy. And since Caroline was with him now, he taught her how the sciences scienced, the maths mathed and the astronomy…well, uh, astronomied? (*Friendly reminder here, we were history majors lol so our science vocabulary is simple and reliant upon puns). While Willy leaned more toward algebra, geometry and trigonometry, Caroline took a liking to trigonometry which proved especially useful in their astronomical observations. Unlike Willy, Caroline wasn’t interested in studying math for math’s sake, she really just wanted to grasp an understanding of how it all worked so she could understand her sky high observations.
Together, the sibling scientists built telescopes and discovered a planet: Uranus. Legend has it that Caroline said that it looked like one of Willy’s body parts. They were a very mature duo, just like us. After that planetary success, Willy accepted a job as George III’s personal astronomer (how do we become this today??) and the sibling sensation ended their musical performance streak in 1782. With Caroline as his apprentice of sorts — she also tidied up around his home for him, polishing mirrors and completing other 18th century household tasks — the two got to work on their observations n’ calculations n’ stuff. And thus began the start of their astronomical impact on the science world, particularly for Caroline as a woman.
She was a busy gal, and her work didn’t go unnoticed: Just a few years into aiding her bro, the King awarded her an annual £50 pension, which is about £8,000 pounds today. William was paid four times as much. So, ya know, despite being a dope astronomer, her work was still undervalued and underpaid. Damn you, gender wage gap. However, this payment-in-exchange-for-astronomy-stuff officially made her the first female astronomer.
In 1788, a year into her paid job, Caroline discovered a comet! She pointed her telescope into the sky, said “Look! A comet!” and thus became the 35P/Herschel-Rigollet comet, AKA the Cool Caroline Comet AKA the first comet to be discovered by a woman. A year later, she presented a catalog of 560 stars, and other sky minutiae that other observers had missed, to the Royal Society. Between 1786 and 1797, Caroline would discover eight comets and correct others’ work within the field. During this time, Willie found a new leading lady in his life, Mary, to polish his mirrors and stuff and Caroline took a backseat, with which she wasn’t too pleased. In 1792, Mary and Willy gave birth to a son named John, who spent lots of time with Auntie Caroline.
Caroline and Willy were often awake gazing into the night sky until the sun rose, and therefore had little energy during the day. Later in life, John reflected on Caroline’s lethargy, saying:
She runs about the town with me, and skips up her two flights of stairs. In the morning, till eleven or twelve, she is dull and weary, but as the day advances she gains life, and is quite ‘fresh and funny’ at ten p.m., and sings old rhymes, nay, even dances.
The sibling duo worked together to map out planet placement in the solar system, as well as comets, nebulae and other sky stuff. Their completed project was published in 1822, right after Willy’s death. Upon her brother’s death, Caroline returned to the Motherland, AKA Hanover, Germany, to live out her final 25 years. Though she had some regrets about returning home and not remaining in England, her nephew continued to visit her and she also enjoyed a bit of a ~celebrity status~ in her old age and was often visited by other scientists who admired her work.
She was basically Bill Nye the Science Guy, except she was Caroline with the Astrological Sign. For all her hard work and contributions to the field, the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Irish Academy made her the first female honorary member in 1835. Caroline passed away at the ripe old age of 98 in 1848 and, 51 years later, a li’l minor planet — Lucretia, her middle name— was named after her. It was a final small tribute for a lady who mostly went unnoticed and unrecognized her whole life of falling in the shadow of her older bro. But fret not — now she and her tunes shall live on, like the persistence of the moon and not like humanity’s perfidiousness toward Pluto.