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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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