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Women have made such wonderful contributions.

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Catherina Elisabetha (nee Koopman) Hevelius was born in Danzig (modern Gdańsk, Poland) on January 17, 1647.

Extremely well educated for a woman of the era, she became the wife and assistant of the renowned German/Polish astronomer and instrument maker Johannes Hevelius, and is considered to be one of the earliest recognised female astronomers.

This image shows her with Johannes carrying out observations of the heavens with a brass sextant from their observatory in Danzig.

Following the death of her husband in 1687, Catherina Elisabetha was responsible for editing many of his unpublished writings, including Stellarum Fixarum (1687); Firmamentum Sobiescianum sive Uranographia(1690); and Prodromus Astronomiae (1690). It can be safely assumed that, as well as seeing these works through to publication, she had played a key role in the compilation and recording of their contents during the long hours she spent observing the heavens.

[credit: Society for the History of Astronomy]

More about Johannes and Elisabetha


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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.

[Source: Society for the History of Astronomy]


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American astronomer Margaret Walton Mayall was born Margaret Lyle Walton at Iron Hill, Maryland on January 27, 1902.

She graduated from Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1928, and worked as an astronomer at Harvard College Observatory from 1924 to 1954. She was also the director of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) from 1949 to 1973, and it was here that she met fellow AAVSO member Robert Newton Mayall whom she married in September 1927.

In 1958 she received the Annie Jump Cannon Award in Astronomy, which is presented annually by the American Astronomical Society to a woman resident of North America for distinguished contributions to astronomy.

She is possibly best remembered for her revising of Thomas William Webb’s ‘Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes’ (which originally appeared in 1859) prior to its republication by Dover Publications in 1962.

The minor planet 3342 Fivesparks, discovered on 27 Jan 1982 from Oak Ridge Observatory at Harvard, and which refers to the Mayall’s residence at 5 Sparks Street (hence Fivesparks) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was named in honour of Margaret and her husband Robert.

{Credit: Society for the History of Astronomy]


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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.


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American astronomer Muriel Mussels Seyfert was born on February 3, 1909 in Danvers, Massachusetts. She was working at Harvard College Observatory in 1936 when she discovered three new ring nebulae in the Milky Way. A ring nebula is a planetary nebula, i.e., formed when a dying star is sloughing off its outer layers. She found the nebulae while examining photographic plates taken at Harvard's station at Bloemfontain in South Africa. This photograph of her was taken then.

Muriel was married to Carl Keenan Seyfert after whom the Seyfert galaxies and the Seyfert's Sextet were named. He was the first director of the Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory. The Dyer Observatory, also known as the Arthur J. Dyer Observatory, is an astronomical observatory owned and operated by Vanderbilt University in Tennesse.

While at Dyer, “Muriel continued astronomical research, raised two children, kept an active art studio in the observatory residence (which is now known as Muriel’s Retreat in her honor), and was a renowned equestrienne.”

[Source: Vanderbilt University]


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Katherine Freese, theoretical astrophysicist, was born on February 8, 1957 in Freiburg, Germany. The family emigrated to the USA when she was nine years old.

She earned a BA in physics at Princeton University, an MA from Columbia University, and a PhD from the University of Chicago. She then went on to postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard, the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California in Santa Barbara, and Presidential Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.

After that, Freese was an assistant professor at MIT, a professor of Physics at the University of Michigan, Director of Nordita (the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics in Stockholm), and as a Visiting Professor at Stockholm University. In 2019 she took a position at the University of Texas at Austin where she holds an endowed chair in physics.

Freese was elected as a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2009, and in 2020 was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. In 2019 she received the Lilienfeld Prize from the American Physical Society “for groundbreaking research at the interface of cosmology and particle physics, and her tireless efforts to communicate the excitement of physics to the general public.” As part of her scientific outreach she appeared in two seasons of Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman.

[Source: Wikipedia]


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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.)


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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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