5 Amazing Women Astronomers You Should Know!

Yuri Gagarin, Neil Armstrong, Stephen Hawking… Some of the most well-known names in space exploration and astronomy. But let’s not forget about the inspirational women who have contributed to the field. Here are five amazing women astronomers you should know!

First American Woman in Space: Sally Ride

In 1977, NASA began recruiting women and Sally Ride was one of six initial women chosen to enter their astronaut program. In 1983, Sally was on the crew for Mission STS-7 on the Challenger shuttle and became the first American woman in space! She left NASA in 1987 to pursue her passion for education, and was inducted into the Astronomy Hall of Fame in 2003 for her outstanding contributions to astronomy. Sadly, Sally passed away in 2012, but her legacy lives on through the Sally Ride Science foundation, dedicated to cultivating young people’s interest in science and math.

Mother of Modern Astronomy in Mexico: Paris Pismis

Although she is known for her pioneering efforts in the Mexican astronomy community, Paris Pismus was actually born in Istanbul, Turkey. She earned her PhD in 1937 and then traveled to the United States to work at Harvard, where she eventually met her husband, a Mexican mathematician named Felix Recillas. In 1942, Pismus was hired by the National Autonomous University of Mexico at their brand new Tonantintla observatory. Paris was the first formally educated astronomer in Mexico, and serves as an inspiration for aspiring astronomers in Mexico and all over the world.

Searching for Extraterrestrial Intelligence: Jill Tarter

Are we alone in the universe? Astronomer Jill Tarter says, “Humans have been asking this question forever. The probability of success is difficult to estimate but if we never search the chance of success is zero.” Jill has dedicated the majority of her career to finding the answer to this question, and is currently the director of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, which uses a system of 350 special antennas to survey the universe for astrophysical emissions that could indicate cosmic company. Jill and her trailblazing research became widely known when it was portrayed in the popular movie, Contact, in which the main character, portrayed by Jodie Foster, was largely based on Jill.

Speaking of contact, Follow Jill Tarter on Twitter!

At the Intersection of Gender, Race and Science: Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

Chanda is currently a post-doc fellow at MIT, and formerly worked with NASA in their Observational Cosmology Lab. Chanda’s scientific specialty is theoretical cosmology, and in addition to her research, she is passionate about racial and gender diversity in the sciences, and is an active member of the National Society of Black Physicists. “There is a lot to be said about the importance of diversifying STEM communities. By optimizing our talent pool, we can ensure that the very best minds are solving our toughest problems.” Chanda has also worked with the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in the Sciences (SACNAS), and serves as a mentor at MIT to minority scientists.

The Planet Hunter: Debra Fischer

The first discovery of a planet outside of our solar system was in 1995, and we now know of more than 350 – of these, Debra and her team have discovered over half of them! Debra and her team also developed a spectrograph called Fiber-Optic Improved Next-Generation Doppler Search for Exo-Earths (FINDS Exo-Earths) designed to identify exoplanets. In addition to her intriguing research, Debra is an astronomy professor at Yale University. Her advice for aspiring planet hunters: “Take as much science as possible. Undergrads should take mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, and astronomy. But, don't neglect philosophy, languages, literature, music and any other classes that interest you - they'll help you think "outside the box."

These women are certainly inspirational, don’t you agree? Tell us what you think – tweet us @4womeninscience, using the #womeninscience hashtag. 

For Women in Science

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