Caroline Herschel was a famous astronomer. She discovered eight comets, and made observations of nearby stars and distant galaxies. She did all this 200 years ago, during a time when women didn’t usually have jobs in science, and she was the first woman to be paid for her scientific work.

Answers to quiz

A - M1 - the Crab Nebula
This is a supernova remnant: the remains of an exploded star.

B - M16 - The Eagle Nebula
This is a cluster of stars surrounded by hydrogen gas.  These stars are only just forming.

C - M64 Black Eye Galaxy
This is a spiral galaxy similar to our own galaxy, the Milky Way.  It has lots of dust which block out some of the light from the centre of the galaxy.

D - M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy
This beautiful spiral galaxy has a companion galaxy.  Just as stars can sometimes be found in groups, sometimes galaxies are found in pairs or groups too.

E - M80 - Globular cluster
A globular cluster is a very large group of stars.  This one contains hundreds of thousands of stars.  It is like an enormous ball of stars orbiting around the centre of our galaxy.

F - M57 - The ring
This is a planetary nebula, formed when a star puffs off its outer layers of gas in the last stages of its life.

G - M104 - The sombrero galaxy

We can see this spiral galaxy side on.  It shows us that spiral galaxies like our own are usually very thin.

H - Comet Tempel 1
This comet orbits the sun once every five and a half years.  NASA sent a probe called Deep Impact to collide with this comet so they could test what it is made of.


Curriculum Links

Cloudy nights

Working scientifically

Scientific attitudes

  • understand that scientific methods and theories develop as earlier explanations are modified to take account of new evidence and ideas, together with the importance of publishing results and peer review.
  • Ideas, political power, industry and empire: Britain, 1745-1901

Scottish Curriculum Links


Planet Earth - Space


SCN 4-06a

By researching developments used to observe or explore space, I can illustrate how our knowledge of the universe has evolved over time.


Cloudy nights

Caroline Herschel

In the 18th century, many astronomers were interested in comets.  Caroline Herschel was one of the best comet hunters, discovering eight. Comets are lumps of ice and rock. They are easier to see when they are close to Earth, but to see more distant ones you need a telescope.

Distant comets look like fuzzy patches of light in the night sky. But comets are not the only fuzzy patches of light out there. Other galaxies and clusters of stars can all look a bit like comets. At the time these were known as nebulae, and these are one of the things that make comet hunting so difficult.

To help rule out these comet look-a-likes, astronomers worked out the position of lots of these nebulae. They made lists, called catalogues, and Caroline Herschel helped create and correct enormous catalogues of stars and nebulae. At the time they used these catalogues so they knew what they could ignore when looking for new comets. However they were ignoring what we now consider to be some of the most interesting and exciting objects in the sky! Have a go at the quiz below to discover galaxies, nebulae and more...

GalaxyFind the comet!

In 1771, Charles Messier created a list of 110 objects that could be seen in space. Can you match the type of object with the each of the pictures?  Which one is the comet?

Take the quiz online here,

or download the pdf worksheet.

All images supplied by NASA.