female astronomers

Ruby Payne-Scott (1912-1981) was the first female radio astronomer. She was a pioneer of the field, one of the first scientists to consider the possibility of studying celestial objects through radio frequencies.

She studied at the University of Sydney, and later started working at the Cancer Research Laboratory of the institute. She made significant contributions to solar radio astronomy, and discovered Type I and Type II bursts. During World War II she performed top secret work, and was involved in the detection of aircraft through radar displays.


“Agora (Spanish: Ágora) is a 2009 Spanish English-language historical drama film directed by Alejandro Amenábar and written by Amenábar and Mateo Gil. The biopic stars Rachel Weisz as Hypatia, a female mathematician, philosopher and astronomer in late 4th-century Roman Egypt, who investigates the flaws of the geocentric Ptolemaic system and the heliocentric model that challenges it. Surrounded by religious turmoil and social unrest, Hypatia struggles to save the knowledge of classical antiquity from destruction. Max Minghella co-stars as Davus, Hypatia’s father’s slave, and Oscar Isaac as Hypatia’s student, and later prefect of Alexandria, Orestes.”

via the National Women’s History Museum:

Maria Mitchell was America’s first professional female astronomer. On October 1, 1847, at age 29, she discovered a comet, becoming the first American to do so. For her achievements, in 1848 Mitchell became the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1850. Then in 1865 she became a professor of astronomy at Vassar College. Learn more about women’s involvement in STEM fields in this online exhibit: https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/exhibit/breaking-in-women-in-science-technology-engineering-mathematics/NAKCO5S1I8MMIQ. (Photo Credit: Maria Mitchell Association)

holy shit, ladies, get yourself some female friends

it’s the absolute best thing you can do for yourself. yesterday my friends and i watched the magnum opus, the master work, light of my life, contact (1997) dir. robert zemeckis and let me tell you it was the most cathartic evening i’ve had in a long time. the movie follows female astronomer ellie arroway as she fights the patriarchy and discovers the first contact signal from intelligent life beyond earth. 

we spent the night cheering on ellie’s earnest and passionate commitment to her research and cursing at the tv while science dudebros tried to fuck her over. i didn’t have to tone down or explain my rage or reassure anyone that i knew that not all men were like that. we just sat there fist-pumping and cursing in turn and ate chips and guac and zebra cakes while sharing knowing looks.

seriously, get yourself some female friends. you won’t regret it.

#133 Because of Edward Charles Pickering.

Probably because women have been systematically written out of history. 

What astrophysicist Edward Charles Pickering did , assembling a team of female scientists, such as Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan Leavitt and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, to do the work for him, is known as the harem effect and is a common phenomenon in science history.

We are often taught in history class that while men contributed to creating the world we live in through their inventions, discoveries and conquests, women lived oppressed, shielded lives. In reality, women scientists, leaders and inventors have played an important role in the making of our civilisation, they just haven’t been given credit for it.

Source: Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey & ricktimus

Today’s Illustrated Women in History is a written submission by James Purvis.

Caroline Herschel 1750 - 1848

Caroline Herschel was an astronomer and singer, and was the first woman to be paid for her contribution to science.

At the age of 22 Herschel, who had received training in music against the wishes of her mother, left her home in Hanover to join her brother William, who had established himself as an Organist in Bath, England. Herschel soon distinguished herself by becoming the principal singer in her brother’s Oratorio concerts, and received offers to perform across the country.

Alongside his musical career, William Herschel’s interest in astronomy grew, and with the assistance of Herschel he was eventually offered the position of court astronomer to King George III. At this time, Herschel chose to leave her singing career and become her brother’s scientific assistant, although some of her later writings suggest that this was perhaps not an easy decision.

Her skill as an astronomer was formidable, and in her obituary, the Royal Astronomical Society praised her ‘indefatigable zeal, diligence and singular accuracy of calculation’ as being significant contributors to her brother’s astronomical success. Herschel was awarded a salary by the court as an assistant astronomer, becoming the first woman to be paid as a scientist.

Her work included the grinding of mirrors for reflecting telescopes, taking observations of stretches of the sky, and detailing the precise timings and positions of the observed astronomical objects, as well as a great deal of calculation in order to translate these times and positions into usable data.

Between the assistance that she rendered to her brother’s work, Herschel found time for her own research, discovering a number of comets, as well as previously unobserved nebulae and star clusters, and compiling catalogues of the stars.

Herschel was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, and was later made an honorary member. Today, she is commemorated by a crater on the moon which is named after her.

If you would like to submit a biography of a woman in history to be illustrated and featured, please send me a message!

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Alenush Terian

“Mother of Modern Iranian Astronomy”

She was born in 1920 to an Armenian family in Tehran, Iran. After graduating in 1947 from the Science Department of the University of Tehran, she began her career in the physics laboratory of the same University. She was promoted the same year as the chief of laboratory operations.

She was invited to france to furthur continue her studies, but got no support from her university proffesor Dr Sayyed Mahmoud Hessaby who said that it was unatural for a women to study more than she already had, nevertheless Terian went to france with the economical aid from her father, who was an Armenian poet in Iran at that time.

In france 1956 she obtained her doctorate in Atmospheric Physics from Sorbonne University. Upon this she returned to Iran and became Assistant Professor in thermodynamics at University of Tehran. Later she worked in Solar Physics in the then West Germany for a period of four months through a scholarship that was awarded by the German government to University of Tehran. In 1964 Dr Terian became the first female Professor of Physics in Iran.

In 1966, Professor Terian became Member of the Geophysics Committee of University of Tehran. In 1969 she was elected chief of the Solar Physics studies at this university and began to work in the Solar Observatory of which she was one of the founders. Professor Terian retired in 1979

She proved to the world that not only being a women, but also being part of a both a ethnic and religious minority. You can succeed.

The Armenian scientist was honored during a birthday ceremony in the Iranian capital city on celebrate the 90th birthday of Iran’s first female astronomer, physics professor and founder of modern Iranian astronomy.
Members of the Iranian Parliament and more than hundered Armenians paid tribute to the Armenian scientist.

“She always said she had a daughter named sun and a son named moon,” said lawmaker Hassan Ghafourifard, Terian’s former student at Tehran University.

Alenoush Terian passed away in 
March 4, 2011 at the age of 90 years.

In the annals of history, Hypatia of Alexandria (370-415) is the first female scientist for whom there exists more than sketchy documentation. She is notable because she was a brilliant scientist – well versed in mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy – and well respected by many. She is also notable because she was well-educated at a time when the rigorous education of women was an anomaly. Hypatia had her father, a great believer in education, to thank for her upbringing. In other circumstances she would have lacked the opportunity to live such an unusual life, and her discoveries would have been left to others at a later time.

Over the centuries this story would repeat itself again and again. An academic education in the sciences was rare or inaccessible to most women. In the 17th century, salon discussions or lectures about the sciences were fashionable. Some were exclusively female while others included male members but were run by women. These activities were a substitution for the academies and official scientific societies to which women were still not generally admitted as full members, although they sometimes worked on the periphery. Self-education, especially among the noble classes, was common and women of means were ready consumers of scientific literature and curiosities. High-ranking women with a serious interest in the sciences were able to take advantage of class-based networks that included nobility and royalty, and permitted access to important contemporary scientists such as Descartes and Newton.

Like Hypatia, many women entered the sciences through a relative, as assistants to their fathers, brothers, and husbands. And while many of these women were able to make significant contributions within their fields, the joint nature of their work often led to the exclusion or misattribution of their contributions. Within the tradition of the crafts guild a wife, daughter or niece of a guild master was permitted to learn his trade, and women were granted limited civil rights and guild memberships which permitted them to work more independently. This helps to explain the number of female German astronomers, 14%, during the 17th century. However, ultimately, when women did occupy a niche in science, it would often become masculinized and women’s contributions would be diminished or appropriated.

Christian Harless, a German physician, wrote in 1830, that in the “long standing gap in the history of the natural sciences there has been no historical and evaluative survey of all the women who, from the earliest times until our own, have distinguished themselves in the various sciences,” (cited in The Mind Has No Sex? by Londa Schiebinger, Harvard University Press, 1989). Since the 1970s, with an increasing number of women entering scientific fields, there has been a corresponding interest in the history of women in the sciences. The individuals showcased in this exhibit represent only a tiny percentage of the women who have worked in the sciences from earliest times and for whom there are records. While not comprehensive, the exhibit may spark an appreciation for the contributions of women in these and other areas. May they shine the light of discovery on others.

Caroline Herschel’s 266th Birthday

“Caroline Herschel was diminutive in stature–she stood only 4’3”—but her contributions to cosmological science were monumental. The late astronomer’s parents presumed she would spend her life as a housemaid, but her considerable musical talent and formidable intellect intervened. With the help of her brother Isaac, Herschel left Germany in 1772 for Bath, England, where she took work as a soprano in the Royal Court. Her brother—also a skilled musician—started a small business making telescopes in his spare time, and the two took a deep interest in astronomy and observational cosmology.

Herschel was a keen observer of the universe. She discovered hundreds of stars, eight comets (six of which still bear her name), and became the first female astronomer enlisted by the British monarchy. Today’s Doodle by Juliana Chen celebrates Herschel’s remarkable scientific achievements, which include the publication of Catalogue of Stars and a Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society. Today would have been her 266th birthday.”


Meg Urry is a professor of Astronomy and Physics at Yale University (you know what that means: HELLA COOL ASTROPHYSICIST ALERT), and she is the first woman to be tenured in the Yale physics department. She also used to be on the Hubble Telescope faculty, and is especially known for her work on black holes.  However, equally as important is her work against sexism and toward gender equlity, especially in STEM fields. She helped organise the first meeting of solely female astronomers, and she’s been saying awesome words for a pretty long time. We reccommmend you check out her article “Diminished By Discrimination We Scarcely See”, because it’s SUPER AMAZING. Here’s part of it:

“As a physics grad student 25 years ago at Johns Hopkins University, I once found pictures of naked men on my desk. As one of the few women at professional meetings when I was a grad student, and then a postdoc, the attention I got from male colleagues wasn’t always about science. One professor used to address the graduate quantum mechanics class as "gentlemen and Meg.” So I knew that my gender identified me. I just didn’t think the distinction amounted to discrimination. It wasn’t until a few years ago, after I became a tenured professor at one of the world’s top universities, that I finally realized it was discrimination all along.“


Months after 7-year-old Charlotte Benjamin wrote a letter to Lego accusing its female characters of being boring, the company has released the Research Institute set.
“I love Legos,” Charlotte wrote. But, she continued, there aren’t enough girls — and the ones the company has made just “sit at home, go to the beach, and shop,” while the boy characters “saved people, had jobs, even swam with sharks!”
The young girl’s letter went viral and attracted widespread attention, and within a week, Lego responded, saying “we have been very focused on including more female characters and themes that invite even more girls to build.”
The new play set now includes a female paleontologist, astronomer and chemist. 

Read more via NPR.