Thursday, 1 September 2016

Introducing Queen Caroline

Today's post is about Queen Caroline, who took over the throne of hive #2 just before 15th July.

She is named after Caroline Herschel, who lived right here in Bath!  For a while anyway - she was actually born in Germany, and also lived in Datchet and Hanover as well as Bath.  Caroline was an astronomer, and the sister of William Herschel (the astronomer who discovered Uranus).

Despite being partially blind in her left eye, as a result of contracting Typhus as a child, Caroline made some important astronomical discoveries.  She was the second woman to discover a comet, and discovered several over her lifetime including comet 35P/Herschel-Rigollet.  She also discovered a number of nebulae that had not previously been observed or recorded.

Caroline's interest in Astronomy began by helping her brother William with tasks such as polishing mirrors and assisting in the assembly of the telescopes that William designed.  However, one of her most significant contributions was in record-keeping, and logging William's observations.  Caroline learned to copy astronomical catalogues that William had borrowed, and add observations that she and William had made.

In 1783 Caroline was recording observations, using John Flamsteed's catalogue to identify stars that were being used as reference points for the nebulae that the Herschels were observing.  Flamsteed's catalogue was organised by constellation, which Caroline found was not an efficient way of indexing the stars.  She therefore decided on a more scientific method, and created her own catalogue organised by north polar distance.

This catalogue, Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars, was published by the Royal Society in its Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A (though under William's name).  Later, Caroline updated the catalogue;  it was eventually enlarged by John Louis Emil Dreyer and renamed the New General Catalogue.  Objects in this catalogue are identified by the identifier NGC, and many astronomical objects are still identified by their NGC number, including NGC 6543 (the Cat's Eye Nebula) and NGC 4755 (the Jewel Box Cluster).

In 1787 King George III granted her an annual salary of £50 for her work as William's assistant, making Caroline the first woman in England to hold an official government position, and the first woman to be paid for her work in astronomy.  And in 1828, Caroline became the first woman to receive the Royal Astronomical Society's Gold Medal.  She was elected an Honorary Member of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1835 along with Mary Somerville - they were the first women to be admitted.

You can find out more about Caroline Herschel on Wikipedia.

... And here is Caroline's hive, now fully converted to the traditional double-walled WBC design:

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