susanreads: galaxy with planets in foreground (blue on black) (astronomy)
I didn't think it would take me all year to post these! Unfortunately, recently it's been as much that I've missed weeks as that I've had other things to write about.

She is an astronomer, December:
Paris Pismis


An Armenian born in Istanbul, Pismis was the first woman to attend university in Turkey, obtaining a degree in mathematics in 1937. When she moved to Mexico in 1942 she became the first person, male or female, to become a professional astronomer in Mexico. She worked at the National Astronomical Observatory of Tacubaya, part of the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM in Spanish). There she started teaching the first official classes in astronomy in Mexico. Pismis died on 1 August 1999, leaving as a legacy a community of over a hundred of astronomers currently working at UNAM. She discovered 20 open clusters and 3 globular clusters and worked on the first explanations for the spiral structure of galaxies.

Originally from Turkey, she met her husband at Harvard Observatory, with whom she moved to Mexico.

With a profession that lasted more than 50 years, Pismis published over 100 scientific papers.

On the calendar there's also a photo and an artist's impression.

The Wikipedia article is short, but has a bit more about her work, and I notice that she had several names: she was born Mari Sukiasyan, a clearly Armenian name, but the surname Pismis (in which the esses should have cedillas, as seen in the Wikipedia article, which I can't find an HTML entity for) is presumably Turkish. The change of name must be something to do with anti-Armenian racism; she would have been a child during the Armenian genocide.

If your Spanish is better than mine - because the Promt translator isn't up to the job - you can find more info, from her University education onwards, at Venezuelan astronomy site Tayabeixo.
susanreads: galaxy with planets in foreground (blue on black) (astronomy)
She is an astronomer, November:
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin


Born in Great Britain, Payne carried out her scientific work at Harvard University in the USA. Her Doctoral thesis (the first astronomy thesis ever carried out by a woman in Harvard) demonstrated that hydrogen is the main component of stars, something taken for granted nowadays but which represented a real change of paradigm in 1925. In spite of working at Harvard for almost two decades, she was not considered as an official astronomer until 1938. In 1956 she became the first female professor at Harvard.

A scholarship for women in science allowed her to move to Harvard Observatory in 1923.

The verification of Einstein’s theory of relativity with the solar eclipse in 1919 stimulated Payne’s interest in astronomy.

On the calendar there's also an old portrait photograph and a painting of Cecilia lecturing.

The fannishcodex tumblr quotes Jeremy Knowles: Every high school student knows that Isaac Newton discovered gravity, that Charles Darwin discovered evolution, and that Albert Einstein discovered the relativity of time. But when it comes to the composition of our universe, the textbooks simply say that the most abundant atom in the universe is hydrogen. And no one ever wonders how we know.

UCLA's site CWP (Contributions of 20th Century Women to Physics) quotes from a book: Payne-Gaposchkin helped forge a path for other women scientists because of her struggle against sex discrimination at Harvard College Observatory and by her example.

Her Wikipedia article is better than most of the earlier astronomers', with more about her life, career and research.
susanreads: galaxy with planets in foreground (blue on black) (astronomy)
She is an astronomer, October:
Henrietta Swan Leavitt


Member of the group of star trackers at Harvard Observatory, Leavitt discovered the period-luminosity relation, a novel method to measure the distance to astronomical objects. Leavitt found this relation after a systematic and detailed analysis of Cepheid stars. During one year (1905), she discovered 843 new variable stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud, discovering a total 2400 variables in this galaxy during her career. She also found four novae. The recognition of the importance of her scientific work came only after her death, partly because of the intention to nominate her for the 1925 Nobel prize, which was impossible as the prize can not be awarded post-mortem.

Despite her contributions to astronomy, when she died her professional standing was still at the assistant level.

Her work allowed astronomers to determine the size of our Galaxy and the scale of the Universe.

On the calendar there's also an old portrait photograph and an artist's impression of Henrietta studying photographic images.

More information from A Science Odyssey at PBS Online: she became head of the photographic photometry department at Harvard College Observatory, and developed the standard of photographic measurements known as the Harvard Standard.
susanreads: galaxy with planets in foreground (blue on black) (astronomy)
She is an astronomer, September:
Annie Jump Cannon


Cannon is the most wellknown of the "Pickering’s women", the group of women hired by Harvard Observatory director Edward Pickering to make the Draper Catalog, mapping and classifying all the stars in the sky. She invented the stellar classification scheme of spectral classes O, B, A, F, G, K, M, and she gave her system a mnemonic of "Oh Be a Fine Girl and Kiss Me." This system was adopted with very small changes by the International Astronomical Union. Her career lasted more than 40 years, during which time she classified more stars than any other person in history, male or female.

She was the first woman to be given an honoris causa doctorate degree by the University of Oxford (1925).

She determined and classified the spectra of more than 230,000 stars.

On the calendar there's also an old portrait photograph and a modern painting of Annie with a diagram of the colours and sizes of stars.

More info from her Wikipedia entry: She originally graduated in physics. "Uninterested in the limited career opportunities available to women, she grew bored and restless. Her partial hearing loss made socializing difficult"... Her first astronomy-related job was as assistant to Sarah Frances Whiting, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Wellesley, and it was then that she took graduate courses, learned spectroscopy, and developed her photographic skills. Another woman important to her career was Anna Draper, who set up a fund to support the cataloguing work.

Wellesley College has several pages about her life and work.
susanreads: galaxy with planets in foreground (blue on black) (astronomy)
She is an astronomer, August:
Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming


Born in Scotland, Fleming worked there as a teacher until she moved with her husband to the United States. With a broken marriage and pregnant, she began working as a maid for Edward Pickering, the Director of Harvard Observatory. Soon she was in charge of carefully reviewing photographic plates of the sky, some of which were of very poor quality, and obtained excellent results such as the discovery of the Horsehead Nebula. She was finally appointed as curator of the plates archive in 1898, the first institutional position in Harvard held by a woman.

She immigrated to United States from Scotland in 1878.

She discovered 10 novas, 59 gaseous nebulae and over 300 variable stars.

On the calendar there's also a photo (a clipped version of the one on Wikipedia) and a painting of Mrs. Fleming with a drawing or measuring implement and some foggy plates. Her Wikipedia article has more about her work, including how she wasn't initially given proper credit for her discoveries.
susanreads: galaxy with planets in foreground (blue on black) (astronomy)
She is an astronomer, July:
Maria Mitchell


Maria Mitchell was the first female academic astronomer in the USA. She discovered that sunspots are whirling vertical cavities and not, as previously thought, clouds. She calculated Venus position tables for US Navy Observatory. She became the first female member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1865, she became the first professor of astronomy at Vassar College. After some time she learned that, despite her reputation and experience, her salary was less than that of many younger male professors. She insisted on a salary increase, and got it.

Mitchell co-funded the American Association for the Advancement of Women.

She discovered a comet too faint to be seen with the naked eye, the Mitchell comet.

On the calendar there's also an old portrait (photograph?) and a modern painting of Maria pointing out the comet.

More information at Wikipedia and many other places on the web, including the Maria Mitchell Association.
susanreads: galaxy with planets in foreground (blue on black) (astronomy)
She is an astronomer, June:
Wang Zhenyi


Chinese astronomer who studied lunar eclipses using models she constructed in the garden of her home. Despite her short life, Wang Zhenyi was extremely productive. She wrote twelve books on astronomy and mathematics; among them she mentions “Some observations of the forms and figures” dedicated to the positions of the stars in the sky. She described the heavens and Earth’s place in it. She also recompiled data about the weather in order to prevent and combat the draughts and floods that devastated the region.

Conscious of being a privileged woman, she believed that knowledge should reach men and women equally.

In 1994, the International Astronomical Union named a crater on Venus after her.

On the calendar there's also an artist's impression of Wang Zhenyi with a diagram of a lunar eclipse, a reference to another of her books, The Interpretation of the Eclipse of the Moon.

Most of the search results for this name are other people, especially a modern male scientist. The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science has an article on her which I found on Bookrags. Correction to the calendar: She spent years gathering data on the heavenly bodies and the clouds. The data gathered from her attempts to measure atmospheric humidity were used for weather forecasting and, purportedly, could predict floods and droughts.
susanreads: galaxy with planets in foreground (blue on black) (astronomy)
She is an astronomer, May:
Caroline Lucretia Herschel


Born in Hanover, Germany, Caroline Herschel worked in the United Kingdom with her brother, William Herschel. She developed methods of exploring the night sky, helped in the construction of telescopes, studied binary star systems, and published important stellar catalogs. She was named an honorary member of the British Royal Astronomical Society and received the gold medal of science from the King of Prussia. British King George III paid her a salary of 50 British pounds, making her the first professional female astronomer in history.

She discovered eight comets, three nebulae, and wrote two astronomical catalogs.

Before becoming an astronomer, she was a famous singer at oratory concerts.

On the calendar there's also a black-and-white portrait, presumably from her own time, and a modern sketch.

Her Wikipedia article (which could do with some proof-reading, and deciding whether to call her brother Wilhelm or William) has a lot more detail, including that an asteroid and a crater on the Moon were named after her, and a lot more on her work ... though mostly describing her as assisting her brother, and after he died, her nephew John Herschel (whose article doesn't mention her). Humph!

The Wikipedia article also talks about the effects of typhus: This disease stunted Caroline’s growth and she never grew past four foot three. Due to this deformation, her family assumed that she would never marry ... and later, However she did not remain a servant or a maid as her mother wanted either. I think "wanted" is some major conclusion-jumping! How about "expected"?
susanreads: galaxy with planets in foreground (blue on black) (astronomy)
She is an astronomer, April:
Nicole-Reine Lepaute


Nicole-Reine Lepaute worked with another astronomer Jerome Lalande and mathematician Alexis Clairaut to compute the return date of Comet Halley. This required many calculations to determine the daily position of the comet on its orbit, taking into account the perturbations due to the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn. Her calculations made it possible to determine the dates of the next passage of the most famous comet. In 1762 she performed some calculations about the 1764 solar eclipse. She published several astronomical papers and articles, one of which reported all observations made of the Venus transit in 1761.

She was born in the Luxembourg palace in Paris where her father was working for Queen Isabel of Orleans.

An asteroid and a lunar crater have been named after her.

On the calendar there's also an artist's impression of her pointing out a comet, and a black-and-white portrait.

Her wikipedia entry doesn't have much detail; there's more about her life and work at the University of St Andrews site.
susanreads: galaxy with planets in foreground (blue on black) (astronomy)
She is an astronomer, March:
Maria Winckelmann Kirch


Maria Winckelmann Kirch was a German astronomer who discovered the "Comet of 1702." She made important observations and wrote many different scientific papers. Her analyses of the aurora borealis were collected in a text published in 1707, and her work on the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn with the Sun was published in 1712. In addition, she produced calendars of astronomical events together with her husband, Gottfried Kirch, who was also an astronomer. Two of their daughters and one of their sons also dedicated themselves to astronomy.

The "Comet of 1702" was the first comet to be discovered by a woman.

After the death of Gottfried, Maria continued working for the Berlin Academy of Science, even though she had no official appointment.

On the calendar there's also an artist's impression of Maria using a telescope.

I found a more detailed biographical article, with references, on
susanreads: galaxy with planets in foreground (blue on black) (astronomy)
She is an astronomer, February:
Fatima of Madrid

X-XI Centuries

Muslim astronomer from the X-XI centuries, she was the daughter of the astronomer and scientist at large Maslama al-Mayriti, whose name means "man from Madrid". She wrote several works, which are known as "Corrections from Fatima". She worked with her father on her astronomical and mathematical investigations. Together, they edited and corrected "The Astronomical Tables of al-Khwarizmi", adjusting them to the meridian passing through Cordoba and using the capital city of the Califato (a territory under the jurisdiction of a caliph) as the "center of the world", i.e., as the reference point for all their calculations. They also worked on calendars, calculations of the true positions of the Sun, the Moon and the planets, tables of sine and tangents, spherical astronomy, astrological tables, parallaxes calculations, eclipses and Moon visibility.

She spent most of her life in Córdoba (Spain), the world-leading center of all knowledge at the time.

On the calendar there's also an artist's impression of Fatima using an astronomical instrument, an astrolabe I think.

I can't find anything about her on the internet in English that's not part of the calendar entry, though there's more about her father under various forms of his name. His wikipedia entry doesn't mention Fatima.
susanreads: galaxy with planets in foreground (blue on black) (astronomy)
She is an astronomer, January:
Hypatia of Alexandria

IV-V Centuries

Hypatia was an astronomer, mathematician, and philosopher born in the IV century AD in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. She was the author of many works on astronomy, all of which have been lost. According to science historians she wrote several studies about mathematics and astronomy (e.g. about the ptolemaic tables and explanations about the Almagest). She built and improved astronomical instruments such as the "plane astrolabe", an ancient instrument for determining the altitude of the sun and stars, and the "planisphere", the map of celestial bodies. Historians describe her as a charismatic teacher. Many students came to Alexandria specifically to study with Hypatia, some of whom subsequently became important politicians and philosophers.

She was brutally killed by a radical Christian mob, which identified her as a defender of paganism and rationality.

On the calendar there's also an old portrait, a modern portrait against a background of stars, and a quote: "Hypatia far surpasses all the philosophers of her own time." Socrates Scholasticus

I first heard about Hypatia as a mathematician, not as an astronomer, though astronomy is mentioned in the paragraph about her in "A History of Their Own":

Hypatia (c. 370-415) left a reputation as a great scholar, although none of her writings have survived. The daughter of a mathematician, she taught both mathematics and philosophy at the university in Alexandria. She was a popular teacher and was known as The Nurse or The Philosopher. Hypatia invented a number of scientific instruments and wrote works on astronomy and mathematics. In 415 the Christian Patriarch of Alexandria incited a mob to attack her; she was pulled from her chariot and killed by the crowds. Both her body and all her books were burned.

Her Wikipedia article has as much about her death (also sensationalised and misrepresented in a recent movie, so I hear) as about her life, and more about her "legacy" in legend and fiction than about her work. I prefer the article in Britannia Online.
susanreads: galaxy with planets in foreground (blue on black) (astronomy)
Via Jess McCabe in comments at the F Word, I discovered, part of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, which produced a calendar for 2010, downloadable from here. The year was nearly over at that point, but everything except the dates is still relevant! The "high resolution" files are enormous, the "low resolution" version still perfectly legible - if you can read PDFs. In case people can't, I thought I'd copy the content here, starting with the prologue.

Modern astronomy cannot be understood without the extraordinary work of all those women who, thanks to their dedication and love for science, have left us their legacy. While a well-documented history of the role of women in astronomy is scarce, various observatories and universities around the world show that many women, through their paid or unpaid work, have significantly contributed to shape our current vision of the Universe.

The initiative to produce this calendar was taken by the “Ella es una Astrónoma” (“She is an astronomer”) group in Spain within the framework of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009). “She is an astronomer” is one of the Cornerstone Projects promoted by the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO for IYA2009. This calendar is a contribution of the Spanish team to promote equal opportunity between men and women, which is one of the United Nations Millennium Goals. We wish to promote women’s participation in all environments related to professional and amateur astronomy, and to support the training of young female researchers and technologists. Astronomy continues to attract women and benefits from their contribution, but we are far from the desired 50% participation. There is also a wide geographical diversity, with few countries having more than 25% of female astronomers and many having less than 10%. It is in our hands, men and women, to create a society that defends the principle of equal opportunity for all its members.

With this calendar we aim to help reconstruct the history of women in astronomy, which, as in other fields of knowledge, is poorly known. We have highlighted exceptional women whose contributions to the advancement of science deserve to transcend anonymity and occupy a place in history. We have tried to give visibility and to value the contributions of women astronomers from different epochs and countries. Of course, the selection presented in this calendar is not exhaustive; the list does not end here. Many projects developed by “She is an astronomer” teams in different countries have expanded and will continue to expand this work to produce a more complete view of the contributions of women to the history of Astronomy.

I'll write about the twelve featured astronomers in subsequent posts ... at least, that's the plan, but you know how it is about plans.


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