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Caroline Herschel celebrated

Caroline Herschel in silhouette on the cover of A&G

Image Credit: OUP

The Royal Astronomical Society and the William Herschel Society have announced the initiation of a Caroline Herschel Prize, to recognise excellence among women astronomers at early stages in their careers.

In a joint project to celebrate the contributions to science of Caroline Herschel, the RAS and the William Herschel Society are now inviting applications for the Caroline Herschel Prize Lectureship. This award will go to a female early career scientist working in the broad field of astronomy (including astrophysics, cosmology, astroparticle physics, astrobiology, astrochemistry, solar physics, solar-terrestrial physics, planetary and meteoritic sciences). The award winner must have completed her PhD at least a year before, but not hold a tenured position; she will normally be working in the UK. She will be expected to give the Prize Lecture for the William Herschel Society and as an RAS Public Lecture; there is also a cash prize of £500. Applicants can be working in research, instrumentation, teaching and/or science communication. 

The naming of the Prize is especially apposite because, although Caroline Herschel began her astronomical work as her brother William's assistant, she went on to become the first women astronomer to earn a salary for her work. She was well known and respected by astronomers of the day, and was the first woman to receive the Gold Medal of the RAS, its highest award. She was also a character; her journals give the impression of a careful watcher of the goings-on among the celebrities of the day who came to see William's Observatory. When Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne – a good friend and supporter of her work – complimented her on her work preparing an Index to John Flamsteed's star catalogue, Caroline's response (quoted by Mary Brück in her history of women's work in astronomy), strikes a chord today. "But your having thought it worthy of the press has flattered my vanity not a little. You see, sir, I do own myself to be vain, because I would not wish to be singular; and was there ever a woman without vanity`? or a man either? only that with this difference, that among gentlemen the commodity is generally styled ambition".  

See the William Herschel Society webpages for full details of how to enter – and notice that the deadline is 31 April 2018.

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