For this Friday, instead of choosing five quotes by one person, I’m choosing one quote each by five different women astronomers.
1. If you used Google Search yesterday (December 11) you might have learned it was American astronomer Annie Jump Cannon‘s 151st birthday. Her work was instrumental in developing the way we classify stars. “Classifying the stars has helped materially in all studies of the structure of the universe.”
2. Astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, whose work as a postgraduate student led to the discovery of radio pulsars (for which her adviser received the Nobel Prize) and who has gone to do many amazing things. I enjoyed her quotes comparing Quakerism to research science and also comparing science to a Rubik’s cube, but here’s my favorite: “Science is a quest for understanding. A search for truth seems to me to be full of pitfalls. We all have different understandings of what truth is, and we’ll each believe, or we are in danger of each believing, that our truth is the one and only absolute truth, which is why I say it’s full of pitfalls. I think a search for understanding is much more serviceable to humankind, and is a sufficiently ambitious goal of itself.
3. Carolyn Herschel b.1750, whose brother William was a well-known astronomer. She herself became a skilled mathematician, telescope-maker, cataloger, and astronomer in her own right. She discovered 14 deep sky objects and at least 8 comets and received honors from the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Irish Academy, and the King of Prussia. “However long we live, life is short, so I work. And however important man becomes, he is nothing compared to the stars. There are secrets, dear sister, and it is for us to reveal them.”
4. Maria Mitchell b. 1818 , the first American woman to make a living as a professional astronomer (according to Wikipedia). She discovered “Miss Mitchell’s Comet” and her telescope is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History. “Study as if you were going to live forever; live as if you were going to die tomorrow.”
5. Wendy Freedman a Canadian-American astronomer, whose areas of research include Observational cosmology, Hubble constant (she led the Hubble Key Project that determined the precise expansion rate of the Universe) dark energy, extragalactic distance scale, supernovae, Cepheids, galaxy evolution, and initial mass function. She is currently a University Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago. “Centuries of human thought has allowed us to get to the point where we have this vast body of literature, of philosophy, an ever-broadening understanding of the human body, disease, the universe. Whatever subject you pick, there is an incredible store of accumulative knowledge.”
Choosing only five was completely arbitrary and I was delighted to find ample resources for further reading and listening including this one from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, this one from the National Academy of Sciences and this cool one from NASA.