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English astronomer Fiammetta Wilson was born Helen Worthington on July 19, 1864 in Lowestoft, Sussex. She was a musician, teacher, conductor and composer, in addition to being well-travelled and spoke several languages. But then she got the astronomy bug and withdrew from most of her musical activities.

She and her second husband Sydney Wilson were both elected members of the British Astronomical Association (BAA) in 1910. With A. Grace Coo, Fiammetta became an acting director of the Meteor Section. She observed and published data on auroras, the zodiacal light, comets, and meteors.

Throughout her entire career, Wilson was incredibly hardworking and would even look at a cloudy sky for up to six hours at a time just to catch a glimpse of a meteor. To further her research and to make sure her information was accurate, she built a wooden platform in her garden so she could observe space without the obstruction of trees. Wilson faced copious hardships during her observations; she was threatened with arrest by a constable during World War I because he saw her using a flashlight for her research and thought that she was a German agent. She would also continue her observations even when zeppelins would drop bombs on her neighborhood.

Between the years 1910 and 1920, Wilson observed about 10,000 meteors and accurately calculated the paths of 650 of them. In 1913, Fiammetta independently discovered Westphal's Comet (originally discovered by German astronomer Justus Georg Westphal from Göttingen Observatory in July 1852) while it was passing the Earth during its return in 1913.

In January 1916 she became one of the first five women to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. She also became a member of both the Société astronomique de France and the Société d'astronomie d'Anvers. In July 1920 she was appointed to the E.C. Pickering Fellowship, a one-year research position at Harvard College, but sadly she died the same month without knowing she had been appointed.

[Credit: Wikipedia]


Mona Evans
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