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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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