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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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Katherine Johnson (née Coleman) was born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, on August 26, 1918. She excelled academically, finishing high school at the age of 14 and graduating summa cum laude from West Virginia State College with a double major in mathematics and French when she was 18. Following a brief stint working as a public school teacher, Johnson became the first African American woman admitted to graduate school at West Virginia University, enrolling in the graduate mathematics programme.

In 1953, Johnson started working at the all-Black West Area Computing section of the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which would later become the space agency NASA. In addition to the computing pool, the toilets and cafeteria at Langley were also racially segregated at the time. Johnson refused to use the “colored” toilets and ate lunch at her desk.

Within two weeks of working at Langley, Johnson's talent landed her a position in the Flight Research Division. Over the next four years, she worked alongside aeronautical engineers analysing data from flight tests.

In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik and in April 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit Earth. Meanwhile, at NACA (which had since become NASA), Johnson had been working on the trajectory analysis for the US’s first human space flight. In May 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first US citizen and second person in the world to go to space.

Less than a year later, NASA was preparing for the mission that would see John Glenn become the first US astronaut to orbit Earth. The agency was relying on a network of computers, programmed with orbital equations that would control the trajectory of Glenn’s capsule. As part of the pre-flight checklist, Glenn asked engineers to “get the girl” – referring to Johnson – insisting that she run the numbers through the same equations by hand to check the computer’s calculations. “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go,”

Johnson went on to join the Space Mechanics Division, where she calculated the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon, and worked on key calculations that helped synchronise the mission’s lunar lander with the moon-orbiting command and service module. Her work helped the US become the first country to land a person on the moon on 20 July 1969.

During her career, Johnson authored multiple research papers and received numerous awards and accolades, including the 2015 US Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Barack Obama. In 2016, NASA named a new computational research facility after her.

[Layal Liverpool, New Scientist]


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Elizabeth “Pat” Roemer was born in Oakland, California on September 4, 1929. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a B.A. in astronomy, and followed that with a Ph.D. in 1955. To finance her tuition she taught classes at local public schools.

After completing her degree, she worked as an assistant astronomer at the University of Chicago, researching at their Yerkes Observatory. Her next job was as an astronomer at the US Naval Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Then in 1966 Roemer was hired by the University of Arizona as an associate professor in the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. Three years later she was promoted to full professor. Though remaining as a faculty member there, in 1980 also became an astronomer at Steward Observatory in Tucson.

Roemer's special expertise was the detection of comets, though she also discovered the two main-belt asteroids. During her career she also detected 79 returning short period comets and computed many orbits for comets and minor planets. Over a period of 25 years, she took an extensive set of photographic plates of comets, attempting to get consistent data for the magnitudes of the comet nuclei. Her observations led to numerous significant cometary discoveries.
Besides her research, Roemer also served on astronomical commissions and organizations. She also received numerous awards for her groundbreaking work in astronomy.

[Credit: Lowell Observer, Wikipedia]
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American astrophysicist Jacqueline Hewitt was born on September 4, 1958 in Washington, D.C. She was the first person to discover an Einstein ring.

Interestingly, when Hewitt graduated magna cum laude from Bryn Mawr College, it was with a degree in economics. However she had become interested in astronomy and went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for her graduate studies. She began to study gravitational lensing using the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico, a very large radio telescope.

After completing her Ph.D, she was made postdoctoral fellow at MIT. While analyzing data from her graduate studies, she made an astounding discovery. She was the first person to discover an Einstein ring. Einstein had said that a massive object – like a galaxy, for example – could bend the light from another object, behaving like a lens.

Hewitt is currently the Julius A. Stratton Professor in Electrical Engineering and Physics at MIT. She's also received several fellowships and awards as well as being elected a Legacy Fellow of the American Astronomical Society in 2020.

In addition to her research interests, Hewitt is interested in the development of new instrumentation and techniques for radio astronomy. And she's part of a collaboration of U.S., Australian, Indian, and New Zealand universities and research institutions that is building the Murchison Widefield Array in radio-quiet Western Australia.

[Sources: Wikipedia, MIT]
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American astronomer Anna Winlock was born on September 15, 1857 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her father Joseph Winlock was an astronomer at the Harvard College Observatory, and he influenced her interest in astronomy. In addition, she turned out to be an able mathematician.

When Joseph Winlock died the family needed financial support, so Anna went to the observatory. Her father had volumes of observations, but they were of no use until the data was reduced. Since her father had taught her the principles of mathematical astronomy, she offered to do the reductions. The observatory realized they were on to a good deal here. They could get the work done and at a bargain rate, offering her - as a woman - half the rate they's have to pay a man. She was one of the first “Harvard computers” but there would be further highly competent & lowly paid women to follow.

Five years earlier, under the direction of Joseph Winlock, the observatory collaborated with foreign observatories in a project to prepare a comprehensive star catalog. It was divided into zones, and Winlock began to work on the section called the "Cambridge Zone" shortly after being hired. Working over twenty years on the project, her team's work on the Cambridge Zone contributed significantly to the Astronomische Gesellschaft Katalog, which contains information on more than one-hundred thousand stars, and is used worldwide by many observatories and their researchers. Besides her work on the Cambridge Zone, she Anna also contributed to many independent projects. she supervised in the creation of the Observatory Annals (a collection of tables that provide the positions of variable stars in clusters) into 38 volumes.

[Source: Wikipedia]
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Sophia Brahe was born September 22, 1556 at Knudstrup, Sweden (which was at the time was still Danish). She was the younger sister of Tycho Brahe. Coming from a noble family, both were ostracized for their scientific pursuits which were deemed inappropriate, especially for a noblewomen.

Sophia was a horticulturalist, but also educated in classical literature and chemistry. She was self-educated in astronomy, and frequently assisted her brother with his astronomical observations at his observatory Uraniborg. On one occasion she helped with the observations Tycho used to compute the total lunar eclipse of 8 December 1573.
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French astronomer Odette Bancilhon was born on 22 September 1908. She had a science degree and served as a meteorological assistant in Algiers for a year beginning in 1932. She was later appointed to replace Alfred Schmitt while he did his military service. During this time she discovered 1333 Cevenola, a main belt asteroid.

In 1937 she was appointed as an assistant in the observatory. She married Alfred Schmitt in 1942, and in 1950 they were transferred to the Strasbourg Observatory in France. In 1956 they went to the Quito Observatory in Ecuador, Odette working there as an assistant and Alfred as observatory director. Odette retired in 1964.

Odette has a distinction given to few people, a main-belt asteroid named in her honor. In 1951 a former colleague at the Algiers Observatory, Louis Boyer, named his discovery 1713 Bancilhon in her honor.
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Russian Astronomer Pelageya Fedorovna Shajn, née Sannikova, was born September 22, 1894 to a peasant family in the village Ostanin located in the Solikamsky District of the Perm Governorate on the European slopes of the Ural mountains.

I wasn't able to find out what her young life was like or how she became educated in science and able to get a job at the Simeiz Observatory on the Crimean peninsula. But in 1928 she became the first woman ever to discover a minor planet – the asteroid 1112 Polonia. She went on to discover 19 minor planets and 140 variable stars, and was the co-discoverer of comet 61P/Shajn-Schaldach.

Pelageya married her colleague at the observatory, Grigory Shajn, who was a prominent Soviet scientist. After WWII he become the director of the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory. One of the minor planets discovered by Pelageya was named 1648 Shajna in honor of her and her husband.
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Mae Jemison, born on October 17, 1956 is an extraordinarily talented woman.

As a NASA astronaut, she was the first African American woman in space. Before her time with NASA she had entered Stanford University at the age of 16 and four years later had degrees both in chemical engineering and African American studies. Jemison then went to Cornell University to complete a medical degree, following it up with some time as a general practitioner and then a medical officer with the Peace Corps in West Africa.

After leaving NASA, among her other accomplishments, she was for several years a professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth Collge and the director of the Jemison Institute for Advancing Technology in Developing Countries. She continues to advocate science education and encourage minority students.

Jemison is also a trained dancer and in this video The Cosmic Dance she explains why she thinks dance was helpful for her as an astronaut.
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Henrietta Hill Swope was born on October 26, 1902 in St
Louis, Missouri, USA. She got her master's degree in astronomy while working with Harlow Shapley, the director of the Harvard College Observatory.

Swopes's most important work was on variable stars, in particular Cepheid variables. Careful measurements of the variability of these stars made it possible to determine their distance. (This understanding was based on the work of Henrietta Leavitt who had previously worked at the Harvard College Observatory.)

In 1952, Swope went to California to work with Walter Baade on the variable stars detected by the new 200-inch Hale Telescope at Mount Palomar. It was owned by the Carnegie Institution. The largest telescope in the world (at that time) made it possible to use variable stars in other galaxies to determine their distances. She spent the rest of her career working there.

Retirement didn't end her contributions to astronomy. She had family money, and donated a large sum to the Carnegie Institution to develop optical astronomy facilities in the southern hemisphere. The Swope Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile is still in use. When she died, she left most of her estate to support Las Campanas.


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