Caroline Herschel

MARCH / APRIL 2017: BY LILA DONOVAN

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. -Romans 1:20

Caroline Herschel was one of the first female astronomers and actually recognized in her era for her contributions to astronomy. She discovered several comets, was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, was made an honorary member of a couple organizations, and awarded with another Gold Medal by the King of Prussia on her 96th birthday.

Caroline overcame great odds to become an astronomer. She was born in Hanover, Germany on March 16, 1750. She was the 8th child and fourth daughter, and her father was a musician. When she was ten Caroline ended up with typhus which severely stunted her growth. Some accounts claim that at the age of three she was struck with smallpox and disfigured in one eye. Due to her disabilities her mother felt that she shouldn’t be educated and should train to become a house servant. Her father wanted to educate her and would take the opportunity to do so when her mother wasn’t around. After her father’s death her brother William had moved to England, and decided to bring Caroline to live with him. William told their mother that it would only be temporary so at the age of 22 Caroline moved to England. William was a musician and music teacher and tutored his sister in voice lessons and she became an accomplished singer.

Over time William became interested in astronomy and Caroline started assisting him in his endeavors, she would polish his mirrors and mounted telescopes. Soon she also started to gain an interest in astronomy as well. William built her a comet-searching telescope which she started using and made her own discoveries. William and Caroline would often work together and other times they’d work independently. She’d often assist him with his research. On her own she would look at the night sky and make her own findings and observations. On August 1, 1786 she discovered her first comet. Between 1789-97 she discovered eight comets altogether.

caroline2Eventually King George III paid her and her brother, this was at a time where men and women weren’t paid for their scientific services. She was the first woman to get paid for her work in astronomy in England and the first woman to hold a government position. Caroline was celebrated in her own time with several honors as previously mentioned. Her story is so rare especially for a woman pursuing science. A lot of her success is because her brother got her out of her horrible home situation. William basically gave her freedom from her overbearing mother who had low expectations for Caroline, so Caroline could have a better life.

Astronomy is actually one of the main reasons why I became a Christian. Faith has often been difficult for me to grasp. I used to be a doubter. I didn’t just doubt God. I also doubted myself. I had zero confidence in myself and God. Looking back on my life back then, I was what the bible calls a double-minded man (James 1:6-8). At one point I had decided that I was agnostic but over time it became harder to stay an agnostic. Basically an agnostic is someone that isn’t sure whether or not God exists. While atheists deny that He exists, agnostics just aren’t sure. The arguments of atheism just weren’t satisfying enough to me and thus I “settled” on agnosticism. Being an agnostic to me felt like being in a spiritual limbo. It was very lonely. In my mind I had decided that the agnostics had better arguments than atheists and Christians, but over time, deep within my psyche, I just wanted more. I didn’t get why I wanted more. I just did. I now understand it was a longing deep within my soul. Scripture tells us that God has set eternity into the human heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and now that I’m a Christian I have to agree.

At night when I looked at the night sky and the diversity of all living things in this Earth, I just had a hard time agreeing with agnosticism and slowly started changing my mind a little bit at a time. I went from not being sure if God existed, to believing in a monotheistic God, to believing that the God of Israel was the true God. I eventually saw that Jesus Christ was His son, the savior of mankind, and that the Holy Spirit was our counselor, guide and comforter. It was a very slow progression toward becoming a Christian. One of my fears was that I’d believe in the “wrong God” and miss out on the true God. I kept searching, asking questions and all these small steps led me to Christ. I really wanted a “burning bush” experience with God but that wasn’t how it happened for me.

I’ve come to understand that burning bush experiences with God don’t always generate lasting faith with people, and that God can speak to us in obvious ways like through science. God didn’t just leave us on our own, He created blueprints throughout creation that lead back to Him.

marchapril2017

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lila Donovan is a Christian and a university student. She loves to read, draw, write, and has a blog.

 

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