The great unknown of astronomy
We could not think of modern astronomy without the enormous work of all those women who, with their effort, dedication and love of science, have left us their legacy. All those women who, from different countries of the world, have contributed to the progress of astronomy, most of them forgotten by history. The presence of women in astronomy is 4000 years old.
The high priestess En’Heduana created the first known calendars. He lived in Babylon 2300 years ago. C.
Aglaonike (2nd century BC) lived in ancient Greece and predicted eclipses.
In Alexandria, Hypatia (4th century), was a great philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. Some attribute the invention of the astrolabe, three treatises on geometry and algebra, letters from heaven and a planisphere. She died with her throat cut.
It is unknown if there were female astronomers during middle age. Only one Spanish Muslim is known, from the time of the Caliphate of Córdoba, called Fátima de Madrid . His father was an astronomer too and she helped him. He wrote many works of astronomy, called Corrections of Fatima. A work of his, called Treaty of the astrolabe, is preserved in the Library of the Monastery of El Escorial.
In the 16th century Sofia Brahe helped her brother Tycho Brahe to calculate eclipses.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries astronomy was considered an artisanal activity. During those centuries, 14% of German women were engaged in astronomy.
The astronomer Maria Cunitz (1604 – 1664), was called the “Palas de Silesia” (Pallas was the god of wisdom). He wrote “Urania Propitia”, which were like the “Rudolphine Tables” but new and simplified, more precise and simple to use, and also divulged Kepler’s Laws. It became well known throughout Europe.
Maria Eimmart lived at the same time as Galileo. She was the daughter of an astronomer and made 250 drawings of the moon, with which a precise map of the moon could be made.
Maria Wilckelmann Kirch (Germany, 1670 – 1720) was an advanced woman for her time. He published works on conjunctions and discovered a comet in 1708, but it was attributed to her husband. The Berlin Academy awarded her a gold medal, although it did not help her after her husband died, to find a job. She requested to take the position of her husband, but was not accepted as a woman.
Caroline Herschel (Germany, 1750 – 1848), sister of the famous astronomer William Herschel who helped. He discovered 17 nebulae and eight comets. In 1787 he was recognized as an astronomer in his own right and was granted an annual salary of 50 pounds. After the death of his brother he returned to his hometown and wrote a Catalog of 2500 nebulas. The Royal Society awarded him a gold medal.
Mary Sommerville (England, 1782 – 1872). She had to marry her cousin, much older than her, to fulfill her dream of entering the intellectual environments of the time. He published several books, the last at 89 years.
The professionalization of astronomy in Europe in the nineteenth century led to the disappearance of women in science. On the other hand, the opposite happened in the United States.
Maria or Mariel Mitchell (1818 – 1889), daughter of an astronomer. He discovered a comet that bears his name, for which he was awarded a medal, he studied sunspots, asteroids and the movements of the planets.
Professor Pickering, of the University of Harvard, hired a group of 21 women, known as the Harem of Pickering to perform tedious works of classification and cataloging of the stellar spectra up to magnitude 9. Among them, the following four stood out.
Williaminna Fleming (1857 – 1911) was the first woman to be hired at Harvard. He discovered white dwarfs, 10 novae, 52 nebulae and hundreds of variable stars.
Annie Jump Cannon (1863 – 1941) created the system of spectral classification of stars.
Antonia Maury (1866 – 1952) invented a classification system with subscripts for the different luminosities of each stellar type.
Henrietta Leavitt (1868 – 1921) discovered the period-luminosity relationship for Cepheid stars and 1,777 variable stars.
At the Paris Observatory, the Sky Charter was projected, mapping all the stars up to magnitude 11. Twenty-one observatories participated from all over the world. They hired many women because they were cheaper and more efficient, but their jobs were anonymous.
In Spain, the Navy Observatory of San Fernando (Cádiz) hired “four lady plate measurers” and invested 30 years of their life to develop this work.
Charlotte Moore Sitterly (1898 – 1990), American astronomer, published books on the solar spectrum.
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (1900 – 1980) was the first woman to make observations at the Monte Palomar Observatory because of her extraordinary reputation but only for a few hours and as a courtesy of the director.
Margaret Burbidge (1919-) had to use her husband’s name to develop most of her work prior to 1967.
Vera Rubin (1928 -) was the first woman to legally use the Monte Palomar telescope in 1964.
Margaret Geller (1947 -) has been awarded an honorary doctorate in Spain for her studies on the distribution of galaxies in the universe.
Jocelyn Bell (1943 -) had to overcome the tremendous injustice of not considering her for the Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of pulsars. The prize was awarded to his thesis director.
“This is a battle that young women will have to fight. Thirty years ago we thought that the battle would end soon, but equality is as elusive as dark matter. ” (Vera Rubin)