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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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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 of 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 they 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 – American computer scientist and systems engineer – was born on August 17, 1936 in Paoli, Indiana.

Hamilton majored in mathematics and minored in philosophy for her B.A. degree. She intended to do graduate study in abstract mathematics at Brandeis University, but took an interim job at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) on a project to develop weather prediction software. It was the early 1960s when software development was in its infancy, and programmers learned as they worked. Discovering that she had a flair for the work, the PhD was abandoned.

Her success at MIT led her to NASA as lead developer for Apollo flight software. Hamilton invented the term software engineering to describe what they were doing. It became recognized as an engineering discipline. Her rigorous systems approach to the Apollo software was essential to its success. She said about Apollo, “There was no second chance. We all knew that.” When no bugs were found in any of the crewed Apollo missions, the software was adapted for Skylab and the Space Shuttle.

Margaret Hamilton standing next to the navigation software that she and her MIT team produced for the Apollo Project.


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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]
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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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