Caroline Herschel

Caroline discovered eight comets, revised Flamsteed's Star Catalogue, and became the first paid female astronomer in history.

Who was Caroline Herschel?

Caroline spent her youth in Hanover performing chores for her demanding mother. In 1772 she crossed the Channel, and only six years later sang as a premier soloist in her brothers William's concerts in Bath

Their musical life changed dramatically as William's obsession with his new hobby - astronomy - took overAfter William's groundbreaking discovery of Uranus, he gave up music. He moved near Windsor to act as astronomer to the Royal Family under the patronage of King George III. Caroline wrote, she 'found [she] was to be trained for an assistant Astronomer'. 

Find out more about the Herschel family at the Royal Observatory


Sir William Herschel, 1738-1822
Sir William Herschel, 1738-1822

Caroline at Greenwich

Over time, Caroline discovered comets - eight in total, the final one in 1797. When she spotted it she rode nearly 30 miles to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich to tell the Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne.

She also completed a mundane but essential task, checking, calculating, correcting and updating a catalogue of nearly 3,000 stars.

This documentation was what had been observed by the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed. It took Caroline 20 months to complete the task. 

In 1779 Caroline spent a week in Greenwich, as guest of the Astronomer Royal.


Women's History Month - Caroline Herschel
Women's History Month - Caroline Herschel

What did Caroline Herschel discover?

Caroline Herschel was the first woman to discover a comet. She went on to discover eight comets, the last of which was discovered by the naked eye. 


In 1787 King George III granted Caroline a £50 salary as William's assistant. This made her the first female in Britain to earn an income for the pursuit of science as well as the first women ever to earn a living from astronomy. She received many accolades for her discoveries. These included a Gold Medal and Honorary Membership of the Royal Astronomical Society, Honorary Membership of the Royal Irish Academy, and the Gold Medal of Science from the King of Prussia.


Caroline Herschel

The text for this post was drawn from the booklet 'Women, Astronomy & Greenwich' written for the Royal Observatory  Greenwich by author Kelley Swain.