In the summer of 1785 astronomer William Herschel embarked on his revolutionary
SOCIAL STUDIES: This passage is adapted from the book The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes.
In the summer of 1785 astronomer William Herschel embarked on his revolutionary new project to observe and resolve the heavens with a telescope more powerful than ever previously attempted.
What he intended to build was a telescope ‘of the Newtonian form, with an octagon tube 40 foot long and five feet in diameter; the specula [mirrors] of which it would be necessary to have at least two, or perhaps three’. The telescope would have to be mounted in an enormous wooden gantry, capable of being turned safely on its axis by just two workmen, but also susceptible to the finest fingertip adjustments by the observing astronomer.
The forty-foot would be higher than a house. The astronomer (William) would be required to climb a series of ladders to a special viewing platform perched at the mouth of the telescope. The assistant (William’s sister, Caroline) would have to be shut in a special booth below to avoid light pollution, where she would have her desk and lamp, celestial clocks, and observation journals. Astronomer and assistant would be invisible to each other for hours on end, shouting commands and replies, although eventually connected by a metal speaking-tube.
William had decided that his grand project required a new house with larger grounds for constructing and erecting the telescope. On 3 April 1786 they moved to ‘The Grove’, a quite small and rather dilapidated country house on the edge of the tiny village of Slough, England.
The house itself was not large, but it had sheds and stables which were gradually converted into workshops and laboratories. Above the stables were a series of haylofts which could be converted into a separate apartment. Caroline claimed these for her own. A small outside staircase led up to a flat roof from which she hoped to carry out her comet ‘sweeps’ in security and independently. She would check over the calculations of William’s nebulae by day, and make her own sweeps up on the roof by night.
William had built Caroline a special two-foot Newtonian reflector. Because of its large aperture, its tube appeared much fatter, heavier and stubbier than normal reflectors of this type. Suspended from a pivot at the top of the box-frame, the telescope could be precisely raised or lowered by a system of pulleys operated by a winding handle. These adjustments were easy to make, and extremely fine.
This beautiful instrument was designed specifically for its huge light-gathering power and its wide angle of vision. The magnification was comparatively low at twenty-four times. As with modern binoculars, this combination of low power with a large viewing field allowed the observer to see faint stellar objects very brightly, while placing them within a comparatively wide context of surrounding stars. The telescope was perfectly designed to spot any strange or unknown object moving through the familiar field of ‘fixed stars’. In other words, to catch new planets or new comets.
On 1 August 1786, only two nights after starting her new sweeps, Caroline thought she had spotted an unknown stellar object moving through Ursa Major (the Great Bear constellation). It appeared to be descending, but barely perceptibly, towards a triangulation of stars in the beautifully named constellation Coma Berenices. To find something so quickly, and in such a familiar place (the Great Bear or Big Dipper being the first stop of every amateur stargazer wanting to locate the Pole Star), seemed wildly unlikely. Caroline’s Observation Book conveys meticulous caution, but also remarkable certainty.
Unable to calculate the mathematical coordinates of the object, she accompanied her observations with a series of three neat drawings or ‘figures’, over an eighty-minute time lapse. These showed the circular viewing field of her telescope, with an asterisk shape very slightly changing position relative to three known fixed stars. The account written into her ‘Book of Work Done’ catches something of her growing excitement.
August 1st. I have calculated 100 nebulae today, and this evening I saw an object which I believe will prove tomorrow night to be a Comet. August 2nd. 1 o’clock. the object of last night IS A COMET. August 3rd. I did not go to rest till I had written to Dr Blagden [at the Royal Society] and Mr Aubert to announce the Comet.
The verification of Caroline’s comet was achieved much more rapidly than William’s discovery of the planet Uranus had been. Its movement through Coma Berenices was relatively easy to ascertain, and its fine hazy tail or coma was unmistakable
11. Which of the following statements best describes how the passage characterizes William’s response to Caroline’s discovery of a comet?
A. The passage makes it clear that although William applauded Caroline’s discovery, he was disappointed that Caroline wasn’t looking for nebulae.
B. The passage claims that William supported Caroline’s discovery by verifying the comet himself.
C. The passage suggests that William resented the fact that Caroline’s comet was recognized so quickly.
D. The passage does not give a clear indication of how William felt about Caroline’s discovery.
12. In the passage, the author emphasizes the large size of William’s powerful telescope’s octagon tube by comparing the tube’s height to that of a:
F. series of ladders.
G. wooden gantry.
13. The primary function of the fifth paragraph (lines 31–40) is to:
A. explain the methods Caroline used to perform her comet sweeps.
B. shift the passage’s focus from William’s project to Caroline’s own astronomical work.
C. describe the renovations Caroline made to the stables in order to accommodate William’s telescope.
D. introduce the passage’s discussion of how Caroline’s observation techniques compared to William’s.
14. In the context of the passage, the excerpt from Caroline’s “Book of Work Done” primarily serves to:
F. outline the process by which Caroline determined her finding was a comet.
G. provide an example of the types of observation notes Caroline made for William.
H. illustrate Caroline’s growing sense of excitement about her discovery.
J. explain Dr. Blagden’s and Mr. Aubert’s role in verifying Caroline’s discovery.
15. As it is used in line 12, the word finest most nearly means:
16. The passage most strongly suggests that while William operated his telescope, Caroline would have to work below in a special booth because:
F. she would be relaying William’s instructions to the workmen who turned the telescope.
G. she preferred seclusion when working on calculations.
H. the telescope’s viewing platform would not be large enough to hold both William and Caroline.
J. the light from her lamp would interfere with William’s view of the night sky.
17. Which of the following questions is most directly answered by the passage?
A. What inspired William to embark on his project to observe and resolve the heavens?
B. Why did Caroline and William move to “The Grove”?
C. Why couldn’t Caroline calculate the coordinates of the comet she discovered?
D. How long did it take the Royal Society to confirm Caroline’s discovery was a new comet?
18. It can most reasonably be inferred from the passage that compared to normal telescopes of its type, the two-foot Newtonian reflector William built had:
F. a larger aperture.
G. a smaller box-frame.
H. more magnifying power.
J. less light-gathering power.
19. According to the passage, when Caroline first saw her comet, it appeared to be moving through:
A. Coma Berenices and descending toward the Pole Star.
B. Coma Berenices and descending toward stars in the Big Dipper.
C. Ursa Major and descending toward stars in Coma Berenices.
D. a triangulation of stars, which included the Pole Star, and descending toward Coma Berenices.
20. The passage indicates that Caroline’s discovery of a new comet was unlikely because Caroline:
F. found the comet quickly in a part of the sky that was familiar to astronomers and stargazers.
G. knew more about nebulae than she knew about comets.
H. had already discovered a planet while performing observations with William.
J. had little experience calculating the mathematical coordinates of stellar objects.
11. The best answer is D because there is no mention in the passage of William’s response to Caroline’s discovery, thus there is no clear indication of how he felt about her discovery.
12. The best answer is J because the passage states that “the forty-foot [octagon tube] would be higher than a house” (line 14). This is a direct comparison used to emphasize the enormous size of the “octagon tube 40 foot long” (line 6).
13. The best answer is B because the first four paragraphs in the passage focus on William Herschel and his telescope project, but the remainder of the passage focuses primarily on his sister Caroline and her astronomical work; the fifth paragraph serves as a transition, moving the passage’s discussion from details about William’s telescope project to details about Caroline’s work.
14. The best answer is H because the passage says in lines 79–80 that “The account written into [Caroline’s] ‘Book of Work Done’ catches something of her growing excitement.” This statement is then supported and illustrated by the excerpt from Caroline’s “Book of Work Done” that immediately follows. Her writing “IS A COMET” in capital letters (line 85), and the statement that she “did not go to rest” until she had written to the Royal Society about the comet (lines 85–88), also reveal her enthusiasm about her discovery.
15. The best answer is A because in the context of lines 9–13, it is clear that the word finest is being used in juxtaposition with the description of the enormous telescope and its workings. The telescope was so massive that it would have to be mounted in an enormous gantry and turned by two workmen, but it would be so intricate and precise that it could be adjusted in “fine,” or “slight,” ways by the astronomer.
16. The best answer is J because the sentence in lines 17–21 states that Caroline would have to be in the special booth below William “to avoid light pollution, where she would have her desk and lamp, celestial clocks, and observation journals,” meaning that the light from her lamp (which she needed to record her observations) would have affected William’s ability to observe the night sky though the telescope.
17. The best answer is B because lines 25–27 directly answer the question of why William and Caroline moved to “The Grove”: “William had decided that his grand project required a new house with larger grounds for constructing and erecting the telescope.” They moved to “The Grove,” which is described as meeting these requirements.
18. The best answer is F because the passage states that because of the reflector’s “large aperture, its tube appeared much fatter, heavier and stubbier than normal reflectors of this type” (lines 42–44). Thus it can most reasonably be inferred that the reflector’s aperture was larger than those of typical telescopes of that type at the time.
19. The best answer is C because the passage states in lines 62–66 that “Caroline thought she had spotted an unknown stellar object moving through Ursa Major” which “appeared to be descending, but barely perceptibly, towards a triangulation of stars in the beautifully named constellation Coma Berenices.”
20. The best answer is F because the passage states in lines 67–70 that “to find something so quickly, and in such a familiar place (the Great Bear or Big Dipper being the first stop of every amateur stargazer wanting to locate the Pole Star), seemed wildly unlikely.” Thus the passage indicates that Caroline’s find was unlikely because she found the comet quickly in a part of the sky that was very familiar to stargazers.