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#932908 08/01/20 05:46 AM
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Maria Mitchell - born on August 1, 1818 in Nantucket, Massachusetts - was a true pioneer woman. But she didn't brave a physical wilderness. Hers was the harder job of pioneering higher education for women. She was the first American woman to discover a comet, the first to be elected to scientific societies, and the first woman professor of astronomy.

Maria Mitchell

In her own words, America's first woman professor of astronomy tells of her meetings with the great and good of the nineteenth century. Maria Mitchell's sister Phebe collected excerpts from journals and letters to present a pot pourri of Maria's life, ideas and work.

Maria Mitchell - in Her Own Words



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Sophia Brahe was born September 22, 1556 at Knudstrup, Sweden (which was at the time was still Danish). She was the younger sister of Tycho Brahe. Coming from a noble family, both were ostracized for their scientific pursuits which were deemed inappropriate, especially for a noblewomen.

Sophia was a horticulturalist, but also educated in classical literature and chemistry. She was self-educated in astronomy, and frequently assisted her brother with his astronomical observations at his observatory Uraniborg. On one occasion she helped with the observations Tycho used to compute the total lunar eclipse of 8 December 1573.


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Mae Jemison, born on October 17, 1956 is an extraordinarily talented woman.

As a NASA astronaut, she was the first African American woman in space. Before her time with NASA she had entered Stanford University at the age of 16 and four years later had degrees both in chemical engineering and African American studies. Jemison then went to Cornell University to complete a medical degree, following it up with some time as a general practitioner and then a medical officer with the Peace Corps in West Africa.

After leaving NASA, among her other accomplishments, she was for several years a professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth Collge and the director of the Jemison Institute for Advancing Technology in Developing Countries. She continues to advocate science education and encourage minority students.

Jemison is also a trained dancer and in this video The Cosmic Dance she explains why she thinks dance was helpful for her as an astronaut.



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Henrietta Hill Swope was born on October 26, 1902 in St Louis, Missouri, USA. She got her master's degree in astronomy while working with Harlow Shapley, the director of the Harvard College Observatory.

Swopes's most important work was on variable stars, in particular Cepheid variables. Careful measurements of the variability of these stars made it possible to determine their distance. (This understanding was based on the work of Henrietta Leavitt who had previously worked at the Harvard College Observatory.)

In 1952, Swope went to California to work with Walter Baade on the variable stars detected by the new 200-inch Hale Telescope at Mount Palomar. It was owned by the Carnegie Institution. The largest telescope in the world (at that time) made it possible to use variable stars in other galaxies to determine their distances. She spent the rest of her career working there.

Retirement didn't end her contributions to astronomy. She had family money, and donated a large sum to the Carnegie Institution to develop optical astronomy facilities in the southern hemisphere. The Swope Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile is still in use. When she died, she left most of her estate to support Las Campanas.


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Eileen Collins, the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle and the first to command a shuttle, was born on November 19, 1956.

In addition to being an Air Force test pilot and flight instructor, she has degrees from four different universities. This includes two masters degrees, one in operations research and one in space systems management. Collins was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1990. She flew four shuttle missions, including one that involved a docking with Russia's Mir space station.




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American astronomer Eleanor Frances Helin was born on November 19, 1932. For over thirty years, she pursued astronomy and planetary science, first at the California Institute of Technology and then NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). In this photo Eleanor Helin is holding the discovery announcement of near-Earth asteroid 2100 Ra-Shalom, which she discovered.

At Cal Tech she worked with Bruce Murray to start the Lunar Research Lab to study the Moon in preparation for lunar landings. From lunar craters, she went on to initiate an asteroid survey from Palomar Observatory. The program discovered thousands of asteroids plus a number of comets. Of particular interest to her were near-Earth asteroids. Having moved on to work at JPL, during the 1980s she encouraged global interest in asteroids and organized the International Near-Earth Asteroid Survey.

After 25 years of the Palomar survey, she went for upgraded technology in her Near Earth Asteroid Tracking (NEAT). It operated from JPL from 1997-2007, and it was the first automated observing program. As the principal investigator she was given the JPL Award for Excellence and her team received a Group Achievement Award from NASA.

Helin herself is credited with the discovery or co-discovery of nearly 900 asteroids plus several comets.


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Annie Jump Cannon, astronomer and suffragette, was born on December 11, 1863 in Dover, Delaware, USA.

Oh! Be a fine girl (guy)--kiss me! This is the traditional mnemonic for the star classification: OBAFGKM. Cannon devised the system and classified nearly a quarter of a million stellar spectra for the Henry Draper catalogue. She said that astronomical spectroscopy made it "almost as if the distant stars had acquired speech."

More about Annie Jump Cannon


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Mary Somerville was an exceptional individual. Although self-educated and - as a woman - barred from higher education and membership in scientific societies, her books sold well and were used as textbooks for many decades.

She was born in Jedburgh, Scotland on 26 Dec 1780. Her family's idea of education for girls was needlework and drawing, not mathematics. In fact, Mary excelled at needlework and was an accomplished artist, but mathematics she learned by listening in on her brother's lessons, and from books. Her flair and love for mathematics led her later into the physical sciences.

Somerville taught herself French, and the first book she had published was an English translation and her own exposition of Laplace's work on celestial mechanics. It's a science classic, a highly mathematical discussion of the movements of bodies in the Solar System. She went on to write books that became textbooks on astronomy and on physical geography. Both the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Geographical Society gave her awards, even though, as a woman, she would not have been allowed to attend their meetings


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American astronomer Anne Sewell Young was born on January 2, 1871 in Bloomington, Wisconsin. In an era when it was difficult for women to pursue higher education – especially in the sciences – she obtained not only bachelor and masters degrees, but also earned a PhD in astronomy from Columbia.

Young worked at Mt Holyoke College in Massachusetts from 1899 to her retirement in 1936. She was a professor of astronomy and the director of the John Payson Williston Observatory. Highly regarded by her students, many of them also became astronomers.

In addition to her work as an educator, she was also a busy astronomer. Variable stars were her special interest and she was one of the original eight who founded the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), still a respected astronomical organization. Young contributed over 6500 variable star observations during her membership and served as the AAVSO's president in 1922-24.


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Catherine Wolfe Bruce, born in New York City on January 22, 1816, was an amateur astronomer whose astronomical legacy was her patronage.

During the 1890s she made over 50 gifts to astronomy, including donating funds for the purchase of new telescopes for the Harvard College Observatory and Yerkes Observatory in the USA. But she also made a substantial grant to the Heidelberg-Königstuhl State Observatory in the city of Heidelberg, Germany. It enabled the observatory to obtain a telescope designed for the sole purpose of astrophotography. It's known as the Bruce double astrograph. Her gifts overall totalled more than 3/4 of a million dollars, which would be a tidy sum even today.

Her name lives on in several ways other than the telescopes. There is also Bruce Medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in recognition of lifetime achievements and contributions to astrophysics. It's one of the most prestigious awards in the field. Asteroid 323 Brucia is named for her, as well as a Bruce crater on the Moon.





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Amazing woman.

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Beatrice Hill was born on January 27, 1941 in England as a world war raged. Her family moved to New Zealand after the war and that's where she grew up, the middle child of three sisters. Beatrice was a superb linguist, talented musician, good athlete, and excellent writer. However what really interested her was astrophysics. That wasn't offered at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, so as an undergraduate she studied mathematics, physics and chemistry, and then completed a master's degree.

She married Brian Tinsley, and they moved to Austin when he was offered a job at the University of Texas. However, she couldn't get a job, and being a faculty wife didn't suit her. Eventually, with great difficulty, she persuaded the University of Texas to accept her for a PhD. She had to teach herself the basics of astronomy before starting it, but got top grades in everything and completed the degree in record time.

Despite a growing reputation elsewhere, she continued to be ignored by the astronomy department in her own university. Finally, in 1975 she accepted Yale University's offer, leaving Texas to become Yale's first female astronomer professor.

Beatrice Tinsley was one of the great minds of 20th century astronomy. Her radical approach to galaxies and star populations was to consider them in an evolutionary sense. Her pioneering work, using data modelling, helped to lay the foundation for our understanding of galaxies. This in turn is essential to cosmology, because it relates to the origin and the future of the Universe. She was a leading expert in the field.

Sadly, her contribution to astrophysics was cut short by her death from cancer in 1981. Yet despite having entered the field late and her death at 41, her work output included around a hundred papers, most of them written solely by her. Her papers are still widely cited.


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Retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson was born on February 9, 1960 in Mount Ayr, Iowa.

She earned a Ph.D in biochemistry from Rice University in Texas. Before becoming an astronaut candidate, she had worked as a research biochemist. During her time with NASA, she spent more time in space than any other NASA astronaut. (Her record is still unbroken.) Among all astronauts - and cosmonauts! - she has the record for the number of spacewalks by a woman and is fifth overall for time spent on EVAs. Whitson was also the first woman commander of the International Space Station (ISS).

Not all of her work with NASA was in space. She spent a few years as Chief Astronaut. Whitson was not only the first woman to hold this position, but also the first appointee who was not a pilot.


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One of the most brilliant and prolific writers of the 19th/early 20th centuries was Agnes Mary Clerke. She was born in Skibbereen in County Cork, Ireland on February 10, 1842. She was the second child of three born to a talented mother and a father who was a keen amateur astronomer. The children were home-schooled, though when they moved to Dublin, Agnes's brother Aubrey studied astronomy and mathematics at Trinity College Dublin.

When the family spent several years in Florence, Agnes used the National Central Library to continue her self-education. She took notes from texts read in the original languages, ancient Greek, Latin, German, Italian and French. Upon her return to Britain, she was ready to start writing.

In all, Clerke published seven books, mostly related to astronomy. Her Popular History of Astronomy went to four editions and some reprints. Both professional astronomers and the public appreciated her work with its clarity, integrity and style. Clerke was also asked to write articles, both on astronomy and biography. She wrote regularly for the Edinburgh Review, Dictionary of National Biography, Encyclopaedia Britannica and occasionally for several other publications.

Clerke's final book was Problems in Astrophysics in which she used the depth of her understanding to describe open questions in astronomy, and consider how new observational technology might deal with them. The brilliance of the book moved the Royal Astronomical Society to elect her to honorary membership. (Women weren't allowed to be full members and no honorary memberships had been given to women for nearly seventy years.)

The lunar crater Clerke, located near the eastern shores of Mare Serenitatis is named in her honour.


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Svetlana Gerasimenko, born on February 23, 1945 in the Ukraine, is a Soviet Tajikistani astronomer. When she started her PhD in astronomy at Kiev State University, she was fascinated by comets. After completing the Phd, she was offered a job at the Astrophysics Institute of Tajikstan Academy of Sciences, where she remained.

In an interview with the BBC she said
Quote
I decided that I would never be a teacher, because I saw how hard it was to teach. What iron nerves are needed. I decided to enter the physics department, nuclear physics, [which] was then very popular. But she did not pass the medical examination, due to problems with blood pressure. The requirements for applicants were as if they were not recruiting nuclear physicists, but astronauts. I didn’t think long and entered the Faculty of Astronomy. I've always loved looking at the sky. And I have never regretted my choice for a minute.

Interestingly, her one great discovery actually occurred in the first year of her PhD. She was the co-discoverer of comet 67P, along with her professor, Klim Churyumov. This was in 1969 on an expedition to observe comets, including one known to be visible. But they weren't expecting to discover any new ones. It was only when they returned to the university that an unexpected comet was discovered on Gerasimenko's photographic plates. Cool, yet not a really big deal.

But 35 years later, their old discovery became a Very Big Deal indeed.

In 2003, ESA – the European Space Agency – had a spacecraft ready to meet comet 46P/Wirtanen in the outer Solar System, and accompany it as it came into the inner Solar System and rounded the Sun. Unfortunately, a rocket failure meant the launch had to be postponed. That meant they wouldn't be able to catch up with 46P/Wirtanen. So the Rosetta spacecraft would instead be hunting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and travelling around the Sun with it.

Both Gerasimenko and her former colleague Churyumov were invited to the Rosetta launch in Kourou, French Guiana. The Ariane rocket which launched Rosetta can be seen in the background.


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Carolyn Porco, a major star of planetary science and public outreach, was born in New York City on March 6, 1953. She's currently a Senior Research Scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Colorado. However, her career goes beyond academia.

Porco was a member of the Voyager 2 imaging team when the spacecraft encountered Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989. A decade later she led the imaging science team for the Cassini mission to Saturn, and after that was on the New Horizons imaging team for Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. She serves on several important NASA advisory committees.

She's co-authored over 125 scientific papers. Besides doing the science, Porco also takes the science to the public, being very active in public outreach.

Among her many honors and distinctions, she was named by The Sunday Times (London) as one of 18 scientific leaders of the 21st century and put on Wired magazine's 2008 “Smart List: 15 People the Next President Should Listen To.”


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On March 6, 1937, Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova was born in Bolshoye Maslennikovo, a village on the Volga River about 350 km northeast of Moscow.

She spent three days orbiting Earth strapped into a space capsule so primitive that no one could land in it. So how did the cosmonaut get home? That's part of the story of the first woman in space, on a solo flight twenty years before NASA sent America's first female astronaut, Sally Ride, into orbit on a Space Shuttle.

Valentina Tereshkova - the First Spacewoman


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On March 16, 1750, Caroline Herschel was born in Hannover, now part of Germany. She was an intelligent young woman trapped in domestic servitude by her mother. But her brother William rescued her, brought her to England, and trained her as a singer. After he discovered the planet Uranus, the two of them ended up forming a great partnership whose work revolutionized the study of astronomy. Caroline was the first woman to be credited for the discovery of a comet and the first woman in Britain to be paid as an astronomer.


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The women of Harvard Observatory worked hard for their meager wages. And the director wanted data processed, not theoretical work. Yet some of them made significant discoveries. One of the least known, but considered by some professional astronomers to be the most able, was Antonia Maury.

Antonia Coetana de Paiva Pereira Maury was born in Cold Spring, New York on March 21, 1866 into a highly intellectual family. Her maternal grandfather was John William Draper, physician, scientist and pioneer of photography. Henry Draper – doctor, professor and astrophotographer – was her uncle. Antonia's father was a well known naturalist.

Aged nine, with her father's encouragement, Antonia read Virgil in the original Latin. So it was no surprise that she graduated from Vassar College – where Maria Mitchell was one of her professors – with honors in physics, astronomy and philosophy.

She went to work at Harvard College Observatory, but she and the Director William Pickering didn't see eye to eye. Maury devised a star classification system that he said was too complicated. However Danish astronomer Ejnar Hertzsprung found it the only system that he could use for his study of stars. His work - and independently that of American astronomer Henry Norris Russell - led to what's now called the Hertzsprung-Russell (H-R) diagram. It's the key to understanding stellar evolution.

Hertzsprung felt that denying Maury's classification was “nearly the same as if a zoologist, who had detected the deciding differences between a whale and a fish, would continue in classifying them together.”


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Born on April 9, 1921 in Hampton, Virginia, Mary Jackson was an American mathematician and aerospace engineer at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which in 1958 was succeeded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. She worked at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, for most of her career. She was NASA's first black female engineer.

For Mary Winston Jackson, a love of science and a commitment to improving the lives of the people around her were one and the same. In the 1970s, she helped the youngsters in the science club at Hampton’s King Street Community center build their own wind tunnel and use it to conduct experiments. “We have to do something like this to get them interested in science," she said in an article for the local newspaper. "Sometimes they are not aware of the number of black scientists, and don't even know of the career opportunities until it is too late."

Mary’s own path to an engineering career at the NASA Langley Research Center was far from direct. She graduated from Hampton Institute in 1942 with a dual degree in Math and Physical Sciences, and accepted a job as a math teacher at a black school in Calvert County, Maryland. Then she did several different jobs before landing at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory’s segregated West Area Computing section in 1951.

After two years in the computing pool, Mary received an offer to work for engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki in the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel, a 60,000 horsepower wind tunnel capable of blasting models with winds approaching twice the speed of sound. Czarnecki offered Mary hands-on experience conducting experiments in the facility, and eventually suggested that she enter a training program that would allow her to earn a promotion from mathematician to engineer. Trainees had to take graduate level math and physics in after-work courses managed by the University of Virginia. Because the classes were held at then-segregated Hampton High School, however, Mary needed special permission from the City of Hampton to join her white peers in the classroom. Never one to flinch in the face of a challenge, she completed the courses and earned the promotion.

For nearly two decades she enjoyed a productive engineering career, authoring or co-authoring a dozen or so research reports. As the years progressed, the promotions slowed, and she became frustrated at her inability to break into management-level grades. In 1979, seeing that the glass ceiling was the rule rather than the exception for the center’s female professionals, she made a final, dramatic career change, leaving engineering and taking a demotion to fill the open position of Langley’s Federal Women’s Program Manager. There, she worked hard to impact the hiring and promotion of the next generation of all of NASA’s female mathematicians, engineers and scientists.

(Biography by Margot Lee Shetterly)


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Less than 100 miles from me.

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Cecilia Payne - known later as Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin - was born in Wendover, Buckinghamshire, England on May 10, 1900. She studied at Cambridge University where she became interested in astronomy and was encouraged and assisted by Arthur Eddington. Although she fulfilled the requirements for a degree, the university didn't award degrees to women then. However, she was able to get a scholarship to Harvard College Observatory in the USA. Her research included many years of working with variable stars and novae, her efforts adding greatly to our understanding of the nature of these objects. Her thesis, published in 1925 as 'Stellar Atmospheres' and since described as '. . . the best Ph.D. thesis in astronomy ever written', resulted in her becoming the first recipient of a Ph.D. from Harvard College Observatory.

Payne-Gaposchkin spent her entire academic career at Harvard, and in 1956 was promoted to the position of full professor by Donald Menzel, the Director of the Harvard College Observatory. This was followed by her appointment to the Chair of the Department of Astronomy, her students including many individuals who were destined to play important roles in astronomy, including Helen Sawyer Hogg, Joseph Ashbrook and Frank Drake. The minor planet 2039 Payne-Gaposchkin, discovered on 14 Feb 1974 by astronomers at the Agassiz Station of the Harvard College Observatory in Massachusetts, USA, is named in her honour.

[Society for the History of Astronomy]

More about Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin


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Through the vision and dedication of Edward Pickering, Harvard College had one of the world's top observatories. Pickering had a secret weapon: a team of women computers. One of them was Williamina Fleming who began her employment as a housekeeper and ended it as an astronomer of international repute.

She was born in Dundee, Angus in Scotland on 15 May 1857, and emigrated to the USA when aged 21. At Harvard College Observatory, where she became a member of the ‘Harvard Computers’. Her duties and responsibilities expanded over time, and she was eventually put in charge of the team. One of her many achievements came in 1888 when Fleming discovered the famous Horsehead Nebula (also known as Barnard 33) on a photographic plate made by astronomer William Henry Pickering (the younger brother of Edward Charles Pickering). She noticed what she described as ‘. . . a semi-circular indentation 5 minutes in diameter. . .’ on the edge of the bright, extended streak of nebulosity (later known as IC 434) located roughly half a degree south of the bright star Alnitak (ζ Orionis). She was also a pioneer in the classification of stellar spectra. [Society for the History of Astronomy]


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Achievements may be honored with prizes and medals, but few get represented as children's toys. However Lego responded to a proposal to showcase women in space and astronomy by making a Lego set representing four such women and their major contributions. Who were these women? One of them was American astronomer Nancy Grace Roman who was born on May 16, 1925 in Nashville, Tennessee.
NASA Women in Lego

Roman was a noted American astronomer who made important contributions to stellar classification and motions, and became the first female executive at NASA, and served as NASA's first Chief of Astronomy throughout the 1960s and 1970s, establishing her as one of the "visionary founders of the US civilian space program". She created NASA's space astronomy program and is known to many as the "Mother of Hubble" for her foundational role in planning the Hubble Space Telescope. Throughout her career, Roman was also an active public speaker and educator, and an advocate for women in the sciences. [Wikipedia]


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English astronomer Mary Adela Blagg was born in Cheadle, Staffordshire on May 17, 1858.

It was when Mary was approaching middle age that she first took up an interest in astronomy, at which time she attended a course of lectures given at Cheadle by Joseph Alfred Hardcastle (a grandson of John Herschel). Hardcastle introduced her to Samuel Arthur Saunder, then President (1902-1904) of the British Astronomical Association, with whom she collaborated to produce ‘A Collated List of Lunar Formations’ published in 1913.

She carried out a great deal of useful work on variable stars (in collaboration with Herbert Hall Turner) but is probably best remembered for her contributions towards the development of a uniform system of lunar nomenclature. It should be pointed out that, although the labelling of lunar formations is now standardized, there was no naming system in operation up to the early-19th century. Different lunar maps of the period had discrepancies in terms of identification, with the same crater or other feature having anything up to three or four different names, depending on who drew up the map. The work put in by Mary Adela Blagg and Samuel Arthur Saunder went a long way towards rectifying this situation.

After the publication of several research papers for the Royal Astronomical Society, she was elected as a fellow in 1916, after being nominated by Professor Turner. She was one of five women to be elected simultaneously, the first women to become Fellows of the society.

In 1920, Mary joined the newly formed International Astronomical Union (IAU), where she continued her work on lunar nomenclature. This culminated in 1935 with the publication of her two-volume ‘Named Lunar Formations’, written in collaboration with the Czech astronomer Karl Müller for the Lunar Commission of the IAU, and which was destined to become a standard reference on the subject.

[Society for the History of Science / Wikipedia]


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Sally Ride was born in Los Angeles, California on May 26, 1951, and went on to lead an extraordinary life.

When NASA broadened its criteria for astronaut candidates - instead of just choosing test pilots - Ride applied. She was one of those chosen out of the thousands of applicants. Her academic qualifications were impressive. At Stanford University, she earned a BS degree in physics alongside a BA in English. She followed this up with an MSc and then a PhD in astrophysics. Although Ride became a scientist, she had also been an excellent tennis player with professional potential.

As an astronaut, she did two years of ground support before being assigned a space mission. On June 18, 1983, she became the first American woman in space. (Two female cosmonauts had preceded her.) Aged 32 on her first flight, she is still the youngest American astronaut to have gone into space. Ride went on to have a second space mission and would have had a third, but the shuttle program was thrown into disarray by the 1986 Challenger disaster. Her expertise was valued so highly that she served on the accident investigation boards for Challenger and later, having left NASA, for Columbia.

After NASA, Ride went into academia, and also co-founded Sally Ride Science to encourage the interest of young people – especially girls – in science and math.

Sadly, in 2012 Sally Ride died of pancreatic cancer.


Achievements may be honored with prizes and medals, but few get represented as children's toys. However Lego responded to a proposal to showcase women in space and astronomy by making a Lego set representing four such women and their major contributions. Who were these women? NASA Women in Lego


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Ruby Payne-Scott, the first woman radio astronomer, was born on 28 May 1912 in Grafton, New South Wales, Australia. [The photo is of her as a student in the 1930s.]

Payne-Scott started at Sydney University at 16 and became their third female physics graduate. She went on to work at the Cancer Research Institute from 1936 to 1938 before a brief transition into teaching - the result of a shortage of jobs for female physicists. Shortly after this, she joined AWA, a prominent electronics manufacturer and operator of two-way radio communications systems in Australia. Although originally hired as a librarian, her work quickly expanded to leading the measurements laboratory and performing electrical engineering research.

But having grown displeased with its research environment, she left AWA in August 1941 and joined the Radiophysics Laboratory of the Australian government's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). During World War II, she was engaged in top secret work investigating radar technology, becoming Australia's expert on the detection of aircraft using Plan Position Indicator (PPI) displays.

After the war, radio astronomy began to develop in Australia, as elsewhere. Payne-Scott carried out some of the key early solar radio astronomy observations at Dover Heights (Sydney). In the years 1945 to 1947, she discovered three of the five categories of solar bursts originating in the solar corona and made major contributions to the techniques of radio astronomy.

But there were obstacles for women. One of the petty problems she had to argue against was the expectation that women should wear skirts rather than shorts (such fun when you’re climbing up ladders and aerials). More serious were the issues of equal pay (reduced to 75% of the male rate in 1949 for anyone new to the organisation) and the requirement for women who got married to resign. In fact, Ruby married in 1944 but the CSIRO administration didn’t find this out until 1950.

She resigned abruptly from CSIRO in 1951 when she found out that she was pregnant for the second time – the first pregnancy had ended in miscarriage. She went back to teaching later in life and never resumed her research.


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Irish astronomer Mary Brück, née Conway, was born in Ballivor, County Meath on May 29, 1925.

A graduate of the University College Dublin in 1945 (BSc) and 1946 (MSc), and of the University of Edinburgh in 1950 (PhD), she went on to work at the Dunsink Observatory (pictured), where the German-born astronomer Hermann Alexander Brück had been appointed Director in 1947. She and Hermann Brück were married in 1951 and, following his appointment as Astronomer Royal for Scotland in 1957, the family relocated to Edinburgh. Mary was appointed a part-time lecturer at the University of Edinburgh in 1962, eventually rising to the post of senior lecturer and University Fellow, and eventually retiring in 1987. Although her astronomical research included investigations of stars, the interstellar medium and the Magellanic Clouds, Mary Teresa Brück is probably best remembered as a writer, with a particular interest in the history of science. Her published works include ‘The Peripatetic Astronomer: The Life of Charles Piazzi Smyth’ (in collaboration with her husband); ‘Agnes Mary Clerke and the Rise of Astrophysics’; ‘Women in Early British and Irish Astronomy: Stars and Satellites’; and the popular and influential ‘Ladybird Book of the Night Sky’ (1965). (Image of Mary Teresa Brück courtesy of Royal Observatory, Edinburgh).
[Society for the History of Astronomy]

In May 2001 the Astronomical Society of Edinburgh awarded Dr Brück their Lorimer Medal, given "in recognition of meritorious work in diffusing the knowledge of Astronomy among the general public". The photo shows Dr Mary Bruck (left) with Lorna McCalman (President) and Dr Dave Gavine (former recipient of medal).


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American research scientist Claudia Joan Alexander was born on May 30, 1959 in Vancouver, Canada, but grew up in Santa Clara, California. She earned her BA in geophysics at the University of California, Berkeley, her masters in geophysics & space physics from UCLA, and a PhD in atmospheric, oceanic & space sciences at the University of Michigan.

Alexander went to work at the United States Geological Survey, and then to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). She was the science coordinator for an instrument aboard the Galileo spacecraft and in the mission's final phase, was the project manager. As a planetary scientist she researched a number of topics, and also became the science coordinator on the Cassini mission to Saturn. In 2000 she became the project manager for NASA's contribution in the European Rosetta mission to Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

As a scientist, she was also a science communicator and an advocate for women and minorities in STEM fields. She mentored young people, especially girls of color. And in addition to being a scientist, she was a published author, writing children's books and science fiction.

Claudia Alexander worked with the Rosetta mission until her untimely death from cancer in 2015. Her colleagues named a feature on Comet C-G after her. The Director of NASA's JPL wrote in tribute:
Quote
Claudia brought a rare combination of skills to her work as a space explorer. Of course with a doctorate in plasma physics, her technical credentials were solid. But she also had a special understanding of how scientific discovery affects us all, and how our greatest achievements are the result of teamwork, which came easily to her. Her insight into the scientific process will be sorely missed.


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Helen Patricia Sharman, English chemist, astronaut and science communicator, was born 30 May 1963 in Grenoside, Sheffield.

She earned her bachelor of science degree in chemistry at the University of Sheffield, then a PhD from Birkbeck, University of London. (Sharman has since been award a number of honorary doctorates, as well.) She went on to work in research and development at General Electric Company, and later as a chemist for the Mars Corporation.

Then Project Juno came along - it was to be a cooperative Soviet-British mission. But who in Britain would become the first British astronaut? Nearly 13,000 people applied, and eventually Sharman was chosen. She spent a year and a half in intensive training in Star City where Soviet cosmonauts were trained.

When she finally flew in May 1991, the mission lasted eight days. Sharman had been the first British astronaut, the first European woman in space, and the first woman to visit the Mir space station.

After a triumphant return to Earth, Sharman spent several years self-employed in presenting radio and television programs and other platforms for taking science to the public. Since then, she has worked at the National Physical Laboratory, and from 2015 at Imperial College London.


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French astronomer Gabrielle Renaudot Flammarion was born on May 31, 1877 in Meudon, a municipality in the suburbs of Paris.

She joined the Astronomical Society of France (Société Astronomique de France) in 1902 and was a faithful member for the rest of her life. A keen astronomical observer, in 1910 she began to contribute to the society's bulletin. Her research covered Jupiter's great red spot, variations on the Martian surface, and observations of other planets, minor planets and variable stars. She also wrote popular science articles for a number of different publications.

On a different note, when war came in 1914, Ms Renaudot enlisted in the army as a nurse and was decorated with a medal of honor for this work. After her contribution to the war effort, she was an assistant at the private observatory in Juvisy-sur-Orge, founded by Camille Flammarion.

After the death of Flammarion's wife Sylvie Pétiaux-Hugo, he married Gabrielle. He was much older than she was, so sadly, the marriage only lasted about six years. A lovely photo of Camille and Gabrielle

Gabrielle Flammarion had become the editor-in-chief of the astronomical society's magazine and after Camille's death, she also took on the role of secretary general. The astronomical society awarded her Le prix des Dames, one of their three major prizes. It was created in 1896 at the initiative of Sylvie Pétiaux. Despite its name, it's not specifically for women, but rather for eminent services to the society "either by scientific work or by an effective contribution to its progress".

It was after a long illness that she died on October 28, 1962, and was buried in the grounds of the Juvisy observatory, alongside Camille Flammarion and Sylvie Pétiaux.

Gone, but not forgotten, in 1973, the International Astronomical Union named an impact crater on Mars, Renaudot, in her honor - it's (355) Gabriella.


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Love the google. She was part of that generation that was "I can do this".

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[Margherita Hack, Knight Grand Cross OMRI, astrophysicist and science popularizer, was born in Florence, Italy on June 12, 1922. (OMRI is the order of merit of the Italian republic.) The person who would become known by many as “The Lady of the Stars” was not ever a person to be told there were things that women couldn't do.

She completed a degree in physics at the University of Florence in 1945, having done part of her studies at Arcetri Observatory, then under the directorship of internationally renowned solar astronomer Giorgio Abetti. Eventually she went on to become professor of astronomy at the University of Trieste (1964-1992) and administrator of the Trieste Astronomical Observatory (1964-1987). She was the first woman in Italy to hold such positions. She also worked at many American and European observatories and was for long time member of working groups of ESA and NASA.

Hack was a great and enthusiastic science communicator, and among the books she wrote were some of popular science. She also founded the bimonthly magazine L'Astronomia and later with a colleague, directed the magazine of popular science and astronomy culture Le Stelle (The Stars). Asteroid 8558 Hack was named in her honor.

In addition to her commitment to astronomy, Hack was politically active and ready to express her opinions on corrupt politics, pseudoscience and oppressive religion.

This larger than life woman died in 2013. In June 2021 she was remembered in a Google doodle. (But you're unlikely to have seen it unless you live in Italy, India or Iceland.)


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Henrietta Swan Leavitt was born on July 4, 1868 in Lancaster, Massachusetts.

Henrietta Leavitt isn't a well known name, but a century ago she made one of the most important discoveries of 20th century astronomy. Previously, astronomers could only measure distances up to 100 light years, but her work extended that to 10 million light years.

She discovered the relationship that makes it possible to use Cepheid variable stars to calculate cosmic distances. It was traditionally known as the period-luminosity relation. This name completely bypassed its discoverer. It wasn't until 2009 that the American Astronomical Society agreed to encourage people to refer to it as the “Leavitt Law”. This usage has since become more common.

Although she made a revolutionary discovery, her life left almost no footprints on history. The book Miss Leavitt's Stars contrasts the solidity of her professional accomplishment with the butterfly touch of her life. Miss Leavitt isn't even the star of her own biography.


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Professor Alyssa Goodman – born in New York on July 1, 1962 – is one of the leading lights of 21st century astronomy. She earned her B.S. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Then she went on to complete a PhD at Harvard where she is now a professor, the second woman full professor ever in the astronomy department. Goodman is also a co-Director for Science at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and a Research Associate of the Smithsonian Institution

In 1998 she was awarded the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in Astronomy which is awarded annually by the American Astronomical Society to a young (less than age 36) astronomer for outstanding achievement in observational astronomical research. The prize is named after Newton Lacy Pierce, an American astronomer.

In 2015 she was selected as Scientist of the Year by the Harvard Foundation. The Harvard Gazette wrote:
Quote
Goodman’s research and teaching interests span astronomy, data visualization, and online systems for research and education.  In her astronomical pursuits, Goodman and her research group at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, study the dense gas between the stars.

Goodman co-founded the Initiative in Innovative Computing (IIC) at Harvard, and served as its director (2005-2008). The initiative created a University-wide interdisciplinary center. More recently, Goodman organized a diverse group of researchers, librarians, and software developers into an ongoing effort known as “Seamless Astronomy,” aimed at developing, refining, and sharing tools that accelerate the pace of scientific research, especially in astronomy.

In 2020 Goodman was elected a Legacy Fellow of the American Astronomical Society. 


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Jocelyn Bell was born on July 15, 1943 in Lurgan, Northern Ireland. From an early age she wanted to be an astronomer, and following her degree at the University of Glasgow, she went on to do a PhD at the University of Cambridge. In Cambridge, in order for Professor Tony Hewish to study quasars, he designed a large radio telescope – not a dish, but 4.5 acres of land, with “more than a thousand posts, 2000 dipoles and 120 miles of wire and cable.” It took two years to build. Bell was involved with construction, and then she analysed all the data, which came in on a chart recorder.

In the data, Bell found an odd signal that looked like a ‘bit of scruff’. It didn't seem to be either a quasar or man-made interference, though Hewish insisted it was the latter. However, Bell persevered and was able to show it was a series of pulses about 1.3 seconds apart. Then she found another similar source, this time pulsing every 1.2 seconds. It seemed too fast a pulsation rate for anything as large as a star, so for a time they even wondered if it were extraterrestrial.

It turned out to be a spinning neutron star, the first evidence for a type of object that had been theorised in the 1930’s as an outcome of a supernova explosion. Exotic star remnants that spin like cosmic lighthouses, pulsars – as they were named – have been called “the universe’s gift to physics” for the ways they allow astronomers to test the predictions of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The discovery resulted in a Nobel Prize for the Cambridge scientists who led the research — but not so much as a mention for Bell.

The omission led the great astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle to object that Burnell had been robbed of her deserved recognition — but Burnell herself maintains that missing out on a Nobel citation didn’t bother her. What did bother her, however, was the intense sexism she faced in her career, in both the scientific world and the press. Reporters covering the discovery of pulsars cast Burnell as little more than an attractive young girl who had helped with the research, and even asked her for her bust and hip measurements.

Bell married in 1968, taking the name Bell Burnell, and went on to do research in the fields of gamma-ray and x-ray astronomy. She has worked in many astronomical roles: tutor and lecturer at a number of universities and the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh; project manager for the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii; and served at times as president of the Royal Astronomical Society and president of the Institute of Physics. In February 2018, she was appointed Chancellor of the University of Dundee.

In 2018, she was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. Following the announcement of the award, she decided to give the whole of the £2.3 million prize money to help female, minority, and refugee students seeking to become physics researchers, the funds to be administered by the Institute of Physics. The resulting bursary scheme is to be known as the "Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund".

Sources: Lesa Moore & Ian Kemp, Andrew Blackwell, Wikipedia

In a short documentary by Emmy winner Ben Proudfoot, Bell Burnell tells her own story.


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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]


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American astronomer Vera Rubin was born on July 23, 1928 in Philadelphia, Pennyslvania. Her interest in astronomy began as a child, and she went to study at Vassar College because she'd read about Maria Mitchell who had taught there. In an interview, she said, “So I knew there was a school where women could study astronomy.”

After graduating with a major in astronomy, she went to Cornell for her masters degree. Her research was in the proper motion of galaxies - motion relative to the expansion of the universe - and she showed that it wasn't random. This was followed up in her PhD work at Georgetown University in Washington DC, in which she was the first to show that galaxies are arranged in groups and large clusters.

Rubin later scored a permanent position at the Carnegie Institution in Washington DC, and began researching the rotation of galaxies in collaboration with Kent Ford. Measuring the redshift / blueshift in different parts of the Andromeda galaxy the data hinted at an oddity in the rotation. The rotational speed didn’t drop off the way it should for a disk made of the visible stars. Their findings were confirmed by studying a number of other spiral galaxies.

She is best remembered for her careful, high-precision observations that provided evidence confirming the existence of dark matter, the mysterious substance that makes up 85% of the Universe’s mass. To many, the discovery of this strange substance deserved a Nobel Prize, but it never happened.

Neta A. Bahcall wrote of Rubin
Quote
In spite of the numerous obstacles she faced as a female scientist, Ruben triumphed. She was always cheerful, passionate and persistent. She had wanted to attend graduate school at Princeton University in New Jersey, but was denied because the university did not accept women at the time (Princeton awarded Rubin an honorary degree in 2005). She wanted to use the Hale telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California, but was denied because the facility did not allow women to do so until the 1960s. She paved a path for women not only by encouraging and inspiring them, but also by pressing for them to be hired for faculty positions, to be awarded honours and to be invited to speak at conferences. If too few women were listed as speakers, she would demand that organizers add more. As Vera liked to say, “Worldwide, half of all brains are in women.”

Rubin died in 2016. In December 2019, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope being built in Chile was renamed the Vera C. Rubin Observatory. It's scheduled to begin scientific operations in 2023. Its ten-year Legacy Survey of Space and Time hopes to “see more of the universe than all previous telescopes combined”.

[Credits: Ian Kemp, Neta A. Bahcall, Sarah Scoles]


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Maria Mitchell - born on August 1, 1818 in Nantucket, Massachusetts - was a true pioneer woman. But she didn't brave a physical wilderness. Hers was the harder job of pioneering higher education for women. She was the first American woman to discover a comet, the first to be elected to scientific societies, and the first woman professor of astronomy.

Maria Mitchell

In her own words, America's first woman professor of astronomy tells of her meetings with the great and good of the nineteenth century. Maria Mitchell's sister Phebe collected excerpts from journals and letters to present a pot pourri of Maria's life, ideas and work.

Maria Mitchell - in Her Own Words

Doodles for Women Astronomers


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Helen Sawyer Hogg, a notable American-Canadian astronomer, was born on August 1, 1905 in Lowell, Massachusetts.

She pioneered research into globular clusters and variable stars. She was the first female president of several astronomical organizations and a notable woman of science in a time when many universities would not award scientific degrees to women. Her scientific advocacy and journalism included astronomy columns in the Toronto Star ("With the Stars", 1951–81) and the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada ("Out of Old Books", 1946–65).

Hogg first became fascinated by astronomy as a student at Mount Holyoke College. She changed her major from chemistry to astronomy and graduated magna cum laude. With the help of Annie Cannon, she then received a fellowship for graduate study at Harvard Observatory to work with Harlow Shapley. Radcliffe College awarded her a master's degree in 1928 and a PhD in 1931. (Harvard didn't award them to women.)

She married fellow student Frank Hogg and after she was awarded her doctorate, they moved to Victoria, British Columbia, where he was employed at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory. The observatory wouldn't offer her a job, but this didn't stop her research. She was accepted as a volunteer assistant to her husband in order to use a telescope to continue her study variable star studies. Her groundbreaking work in astronomical catalogues that are still in use, as are the subsequent catalogues she completed.

In 1935 the family moved to Ontario when Frank was offered a job at the University of Toronto. Helen continued her observing at their David Dunlop Observatory and was given a job as a research assistant.

From 1939 to 1941, Hogg returned to America to serve as the president of the American Association of Variable Star Observers and as acting chair of Mount Holyoke's astronomy department. Upon returning to the David Dunlap Observatory, she took on teaching duties at the university. The male staff were away due to World War II, but she kept her position when the war was over. Hogg advanced to assistant professor in 1951, associate professor in 1955, full professor in 1957, and professor emerita in 1976 upon her retirement. Over her research career Hogg published more than 200 papers, and was a leading authority in astronomy.

Hogg was also very active in promoting astronomy to the public and in encouraging women into science.

[Wikipedia, Obituary in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada]


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Martha Betz Shapley was born on August 3, 1890 in Kansas City, Missouri. Her husband was Harlow Shapley, a well known astronomer and director of the Harvard College Observatory for many years. What has not been so well known is that she was an accomplished mathematician and also herself an astronomer.

Martha Betz met Harlow Shapley at the University of Missouri. In later life he reminisced:
Quote
At the University of Missouri in my third year, I met a brunette named Martha Betz, from Kansas City, and never got loose - or wanted to. We first met in a mathematics class - she sat in the front row and knew all the answers. She was a clever lady ... She took five full courses and got top marks in all of them.

Although a mathematician, she went on to go to Bryn Mawr College to work for a Ph.D. in Teutonic philology. From there, she made frequent visits to Princeton, where Shapley was doing his Ph.D. under Henry Norris Russell. They married after he finished his Ph.D and he persuaded her to give up her Ph.D to go to California where they both went to work as astronomers at Mount Wilson Observatory.

Martha carried out work on eclipsing binary systems and produced a series of papers “that represented outstanding contributions for the time.” She also collaborated with her husband and they produced some joint papers.

When Harlow Shapley was appointed Director of the Harvard Observatory, they moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. She continued her work on eclipsing binaries for awhile but with five children, she began to focus on the family and to act as hostess at the observatory.

During World War II, however, Martha also undertook war work using her mathematical skills computing the trajectories of shells for the Navy. After the war, working with the same group, she :-
Quote
... continued with measures of the positions of photographic meteors, and computations of their orbits, to provide readings of atmospheric density in the 50- to 100-mile-up area.
Once her children grew up and left the family home, Martha Shapley went back to her astronomical research. Her work culminated in Catalogue of the Elements of Eclipsing Binaries (co-authored with Zdeněk Kopal), her last contribution to astronomy.

The Princeton Alumni Weekly interviewed her in 1964 and reported that
Quote
Mrs Shapley feels some regret at not having accomplished more on her own. She is not the kind of woman who can be wholly satisfied with credit for having helped her husband. She believes that a woman born with gifts, and she obviously was, has an obligation to use them, and not solely in her capacity as wife and mother.

[Source: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive]


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What an amazing mind she had. I hope the children of the future will have that kind of curiosity and ability to accomplish so much.

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Svetlana Savitskaya was born on August 8, 1948 in Moscow, Russian Soviet Republic. She was a Soviet aviator who set several FAI world records as a pilot. (FAI is the Fédération aéronautique internationale - in English, the World aeronautical federation.) As a cosmonaut, she was the second woman in space, the first woman to carry out a spacewalk, and the first woman to fly into space twice.

In 1995, Savitskaya gave an interview to Baltimore Sun journalist Clara Germani. She recalled encountering some sexism from her male crewmates and that upon entering Salyut 7 for the first time, Valentin Lebedev presented her with an apron and told her "to get to work". She stated that "I was quickly able to establish a working, professional relationship with them."

[Source: Wikipedia]


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On August 12, 1919, Anglo-American astrophysicist Margaret Burbridge (nee Peachey) was born in Cheshire, England.

Margalit Fox's obituary in the New York Times:
Quote
She was considered one of the foremost astronomers in the world, long regarded as a trailblazer for women in the field.

Dr. Burbidge was the first woman to serve as director of the Royal Observatory, the storied British institution. She was also a contributor to the design of instruments carried aboard the Hubble Space Telescope and a recipient of the National Medal of Science, bestowed in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan.

“She has a huge imprint on the history of modern astronomy and cosmology and nuclear astrophysics,” George Fuller, a theoretical astrophysicist at the University of California, San Diego, where Dr. Burbidge taught for many years.
Burbridge made notable contributions to the theory of quasars, to measurements of the rotation and masses of galaxies, and was the lead author on a groundbreaking paper describing how chemical elements are formed in the depths of stars through nuclear fusion. She was the first woman to be president of the American Astronomical Society.


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Margaret Lindsay Murray – who would become Lady Huggins – was born on August 14, 1848 in Dublin, Ireland. An early interest in astronomy is attributed to her grandfather who taught her the constellations. She went on to study the heavens with a home-made spectroscope.

Her interest and abilities in spectroscopy and photography led to her introduction to the astronomer William Huggins, whom she married in 1875. Evidence suggests that she was instrumental in instigating William Huggins' successful program in photographic research. She used her background in photography to facilitate early spectroscopic photography.

Together the pair were pioneers in the field of spectroscopy, and from their discoveries together wrote the Atlas of Representative Stellar Spectra.

It took William eight years to acknowledge her co-equal role in their laboratory by placing her name on the reports of their joint work. Even after his death she never attempted to outline her own role in the technical and theoretical development of their pioneering work in spectral astrophotography. But she left behind her notebooks, and the story they tell is at odds with the Victorian face the Hugginses showed to the British astronomical community.
 
Margaret Huggins willed her scientific and artistic treasures to Wellesley Women's College in the USA, as she admired the academic achievements of American women and supported women's education.

[Source: Wikipedia]


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Margaret Hamilton – computer scientist and systems engineer – was born on August 17, 1936.

She was NASA's lead developer for Apollo flight software. This was way back in the 1960s when software development was in its infancy. She was a pioneer in the field and invented software engineering as an engineering discipline. The Apollo software was so successful, it was adapted for Skylab and the Space Shuttle.

She said about the Apollo software, “There was no second chance. We all knew that.”


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Nitza Margarita Cintrón was born on August 17, 1950 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

She earned her bachelor's degree in biology at the University of Puerto and was then accepted into the biochemistry and molecular biology training program offered by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. In 1978 she was awarded her Ph.D. She answered a NASA advertisement for the first Mission Specialist positions in the Astronaut Corps, but was not accepted due to her poor eyesight. Yet NASA was still impressed and offered her a position with them as a scientist.

Cintrón was the originator of the Biochemistry Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center. And from 1979 to 1985, she was also project scientist for the Space Lab 2 mission which was launched by the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1985.

After many years of service at NASA, she was sponsored by NASA after she was accepted as a student by the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. She graduated in 1995 with a M.D. degree, and is currently a board-certified specialist in internal medicine.

Among the positions held by Cintrón at NASA are "Chief of the Biomedical Operations and Research Branch in the Medical Science Division" and "Managing Director of the Life Sciences Research Laboratories" in support of medical operations. In 2004 she was named "Chief of NASA's (JSC) Space Medicine and Health Care Systems Office", position which she currently holds.

[Source: Wikipedia]

Last edited by Mona - Astronomy; 08/31/21 03:38 AM. Reason: Added photo link

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Sarah Frances Whiting was an American physicist and astronomer, born August 23,1847.

She was appointed by Wellesley College in Boston, Massachusetts as its first professor of physics in 1876. Invited to attend lectures given by Edward Pickering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she was inspired to start teaching a course on Practical Astronomy at Wellesley. She taught several astronomers including Annie Jump Cannon. Whiting helped with the establishment of the Whitin Observatory, of which she was the first director. The observatory is still in use at Wellesley College.


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Katherine Johnson (née Coleman) was born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, on August 26, 1918. She excelled academically, finishing high school at the age of 14 and graduating summa cum laude from West Virginia State College with a double major in mathematics and French when she was 18. Following a brief stint working as a public school teacher, Johnson became the first African American woman admitted to graduate school at West Virginia University, enrolling in the graduate mathematics programme.

In 1953, Johnson started working at the all-Black West Area Computing section of the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which would later become the space agency NASA. In addition to the computing pool, the toilets and cafeteria at Langley were also racially segregated at the time. Johnson refused to use the “colored” toilets and ate lunch at her desk.

Within two weeks of working at Langley, Johnson's talent landed her a position in the Flight Research Division. Over the next four years, she worked alongside aeronautical engineers analysing data from flight tests.

In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik and in April 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit Earth. Meanwhile, at NACA (which had since become NASA), Johnson had been working on the trajectory analysis for the US’s first human space flight. In May 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first US citizen and second person in the world to go to space.

Less than a year later, NASA was preparing for the mission that would see John Glenn become the first US astronaut to orbit Earth. The agency was relying on a network of computers, programmed with orbital equations that would control the trajectory of Glenn’s capsule. As part of the pre-flight checklist, Glenn asked engineers to “get the girl” – referring to Johnson – insisting that she run the numbers through the same equations by hand to check the computer’s calculations. “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go,”

Johnson went on to join the Space Mechanics Division, where she calculated the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon, and worked on key calculations that helped synchronise the mission’s lunar lander with the moon-orbiting command and service module. Her work helped the US become the first country to land a person on the moon on 20 July 1969.

During her career, Johnson authored multiple research papers and received numerous awards and accolades, including the 2015 US Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Barack Obama. In 2016, NASA named a new computational research facility after her.

[Layal Liverpool, New Scientist]


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Elizabeth “Pat” Roemer was born in Oakland, California on September 4, 1929. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a B.A. in astronomy, and followed that with a Ph.D. in 1955. To finance her tuition she taught classes at local public schools.

After completing her degree, she worked as an assistant astronomer at the University of Chicago, researching at their Yerkes Observatory. Her next job was as an astronomer at the US Naval Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Then in 1966 Roemer was hired by the University of Arizona as an associate professor in the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. Three years later she was promoted to full professor. Though remaining as a faculty member there, in 1980 also became an astronomer at Steward Observatory in Tucson.

Roemer's special expertise was the detection of comets, though she also discovered the two main-belt asteroids. During her career she also detected 79 returning short period comets and computed many orbits for comets and minor planets. Over a period of 25 years, she took an extensive set of photographic plates of comets, attempting to get consistent data for the magnitudes of the comet nuclei. Her observations led to numerous significant cometary discoveries.
Besides her research, Roemer also served on astronomical commissions and organizations. She also received numerous awards for her groundbreaking work in astronomy.

[Credit: Lowell Observer, Wikipedia]


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Are there many young women venturing into this science?

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