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German astronomer Waltraut Seitter was born on January 13, 1930 in Zwickau, Saxony.

Seitter went to school in Cologne, where she finished high school in 1949, having worked at jobs as tramway ticket collector, refugee aide, and draftswoman. She then entered the university to study physics, mathematics, chemistry and astronomy. Later, with a grant from the Fulbright Program, she was able to continue her studies at Smith College in Massachusetts, obtaining her Master of Arts in physics in 1955, and becoming an astronomy instructor.

From 1958 to 1962 she worked at Hoher List Observatory of Bonn University, obtained her Ph.D., and held the positions of assistant, observer, and supernumerary professor. In 1967, she was a visiting professor of the American Astronomical Society at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, afterwards professor at Smith College (Eliza Appleton Haven Professor for Astronomy).

In 1975, she was called to the chair of astronomy at Münster University in Germany, becoming the first woman in Germany to hold an astronomy chair. She was director of the astronomical institute up to her retirement in 1995. In Münster, with a dedicated team of young researchers, she organized the Münster Redshift Project (MRSP), a method to derive redshifts from UK Schmidt telescope objective prism plates, and the Muenster Red Sky Survey, a galaxy catalogue of the southern hemisphere, based on ESO Schmidt direct red plates. With the MRSP data, first indications of the action of the cosmological constant were found, shortly before major supernova searches established its existence without doubt.

During most of her career, she also did research on novae and related eruptive stars. Exhibits arranged by her include Women in Astronomy, and Science in Exile (Smith College), as well as Kepler and His Times (Münster1980). She also organized several international astronomical meetings.

[Source: Society for the History of Astronomy]


Mona Evans
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