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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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Heather Anita Couper was a British astronomer, broadcaster and science populariser. She was born on June 2, 1949 in Wallasey, Cheshire, England, and decided at age eight that she would be an astronomer.

After studying astrophysics at the University of Leicester and researching clusters of galaxies at Oxford University, Couper was appointed senior planetarium lecturer at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. She subsequently hosted two series on Channel 4 television – The Planets and The Stars – as well as making many TV guest appearances. On radio, Couper presented the award-winning programme Britain’s Space Race as well as the 30-part series Cosmic Quest for BBC Radio 4.

Couper served as President of the British Astronomical Association from 1984 to 1986, the first woman to be elected to this position. As Astronomy Professor in perpetuity at Gresham College, London, she was the first female professor in the 400-year history of the college. On her own, or in collaboration with her friend Nigel Henbest, she wrote over 40 books. They founded Hencoup Enterprises to focus on popularising astronomy.

In 1993, Couper was invited to join the newly created Millennium Commission, as one of nine commissioners responsible for distributing money from the UK National Lottery to projects that would celebrate and commemorate the new millennium. For her work on the Millennium Commission, as well as her promotion of science to public, Couper was appointed a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List in 2007.

Asteroid 3922 Heather is named in her honour.

Couper died at Stoke Mandeville Hospital on 19 February 2020 at the age of 70 after a short illness.

[Credit: Wikipedia, photo Daily Star]

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Erika Böhm-Vitense was born Erika Helga Ruth Vitense on June 3, 1923 in Kurau (now Stockelsdorf), Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.

She began her undergraduate studies at University of Tübingen, but moved to Kiel University in 1945 for its stronger astronomy department. After completing her undergraduate degree in 1948, she stayed on for graduate studies. Not only did she complete her doctorate degree three years later, but she was also awarded the university's prize for the best Ph.D. thesis. She then stayed at Kiel as a research associate, Two years after receiving her Ph.D., she published The hydrogen convection zone of the Sun. This is one of her most famous works as it has been cited at least 287 times since its publication.

In 1954 she married fellow student Karl-Heinz Böhm and afterwards was known as Erika Böhm-Vitense. The pair visited Lick Observatory and the University of California, Berkeley for a year. Upon their return to Kiel, her husband, who was also an astrophysicist, was given a tenure track position, but she was not. The same situation applied when they went to Heidelberg.

In 1968, they went to the University of Washington in Seattle where Erika started as Senior Research Associate. She was later awarded a full-time professor position in 1971, eventually becoming a professor emeritus.
 
During her time at the University of Washington, she made fundamental contributions to the understanding of Cepheid variable stars, stellar binaries, stellar temperatures, chromospheric activity, rotation, and convection. She has over 300 academic papers on the Harvard Astrophysics Data System, of which she is the first author on more than two-thirds of these publications.

Erika was also awarded the Annie Jump Cannon Prize from the American Astronomical Society in 1965, and the Karl Schwarzschild Medal from the Astronomische Gesellschaft in 2003. The latter is most prestigious prize in Germany in the field of astronomy and astrophysics.

Erika Böhm-Vitense continued to live in Seattle until her death in 2017 at the age of 93.


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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.


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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.


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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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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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