Learned modesty and the first lady's comet: a commentary on Caroline Herschel (1787) ‘An account of a new comet’

Abstract

Long before women were allowed to become Fellows of the Royal Society, or obtain university degrees, one woman managed to get her voice heard, her discovery verified and her achievement celebrated. That woman was Caroline Herschel, who, as this paper will discuss, managed to find ways to fit comet discoveries into her domestic life, and present them in ways that were socially acceptable. Caroline lived in a time when strict rules dictated how women (and men) should behave and present themselves and their work. Caroline understood these rules, and used them carefully as she announced each discovery, starting with this comet which she found in 1786. Caroline discovered her comets at a time when astronomers were mainly concerned with position, identifying where things were and how they were moving. Since her discoveries, research has moved on, as astronomers, using techniques from other fields, and most recently sending experiments into space, have learned more about what comets are and what they can tell us about our solar system. Caroline's paper marks one small, early step in this much bigger journey to understand comets. This commentary was written to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2014.0210

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Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Winterburn2015LearnedMA, title={Learned modesty and the first lady's comet: a commentary on Caroline Herschel (1787) ‘An account of a new comet’}, author={Emily Winterburn}, booktitle={Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences}, year={2015} }