Putting aside its World Heritage status – earned for Roman remains and Georgian architecture – Bath can also boast of the part it played in mapping the heavens.
Brother and sister – William and Caroline Herschel conducted years of astronomical research from the garden of their Bath home in New King Street.
William and Caroline polishing a lens .
William can claim the discovery of the planet Uranus or the Georgian Star as he first called it – after George the Third.
But his sister was breaking new ground herself while she studied the heavens.
She succeeded in claiming a rightful place in scientific circles through passion and dedication – during times when intelligence in women was frequently disregarded – and is credited with the discovery of several comets and became a significant astronomer in her own right. She was the first woman to be awarded a Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Only fitting in a year when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of votes for women, that the Herschel Museum of Astronomy – which now occupies the house in New King Street – should be holding a special exhibition dedicated to Caroline.
Inspired by a 1950s issue of Wonder Woman which featured Caroline Herschel as part of a series of Wonder Women of History, this exhibition celebrates modern-day role models in space and engineering who are changing the way we see the world, and beyond.
In the exhibition Wonder Women of Space we have invited four women at various points in their careers in astrophysics, astronomy and space engineering to choose their favourite object from the museum’s collection, and share what inspires them about space and how they would inspire the next generation of scientists.
This exhibition is supported by a programme of associated talks and activities – including this one at the BRSLI in Queen Square.
An evening talk by Dr Emily Winterburn, academic, author and former Curator of Astronomy at Royal Observatory Greenwich. Based on her book, she will consider Caroline Herschel and her various tactics for encouraging support for her work. Between 1788 and 1797 Caroline discovered comets, became the first woman to be published in the journal of the Royal Society and assisted her brother in his research. Women had tried to get their work heard before, indeed all over Europe there were women quietly working in science, more often than not silently, and unacknowledged for their male relatives; Caroline, however, was the first to get her voice truly heard. In this talk, Emily will focus on the beginning of her story, her very first, tentative steps into the world of scientific publication. Would she judge it well? Or fall to ridicule or condensation as so many of her predecessors had done? Tickets £4 / £2 for students and if a member of BRLSI or William Herschel Society.
Dr Amy Frost, Senior Curator, Bath Preservation Trust says: “In the year we commemorate the 100th anniversary of votes for women, this exhibition is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary role Caroline Herschel played in breaking through the barrier of a male-dominated scientific community, and how she continues to inspire women in science today.”
Prof Carole Mundell, Head of Department of Physics, University of Bath added:
“The study of space and our place in the Universe is as exciting and important as it was in Caroline Herschel’s day. The Wonder Women of Space exhibition celebrates the role of women scientists and engineers who are advancing the frontiers of knowledge and continue the Herschel legacy. I am thrilled and honoured to be included with such talented women, and I can’t wait to visit the Herschel Museum to see the exhibition.”
About The Herschel Museum
The Herschel Museum is one of four museums run by the Bath Preservation Trust. It is dedicated to the many achievements of the Herschels, who were distinguished astronomers as well as talented musicians. It was from this house, using a telescope of his own design that William discovered the planet Uranus in 1781. His observations helped to double the known size of the solar system. The house is Georgian, built c 1764.
About Caroline Herschel
Initially acknowledged as her brother Williams’ ‘astronomical assistant’ Caroline soon gained a reputation as a pioneering astronomer in her own right and was the first women to discover a comet (in 1786). From that time she because the first woman to be paid for scientific services, officially employed by King George III, and went on to discover seven more as well as 14 nebulae. She received the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1828 and received an honorary membership into the Royal Society, before her death aged 97.
The Museum is open Monday – Friday from 1pm – 5pm
Weekends and Bank Holidays 10am – 5pm
Entrance to the exhibition is included with admission tickets