Kickass Women


Vera Rubin

American astronomer who established the presence of dark matter in galaxies, measures spectra in the 1970s. 
She uncovered the discrepancy between the predicted angular motion of galaxies and the observed motion, by studying galactic rotation curves. This phenomenon became known as the galaxy rotation problem.
Vera Rubin continues to explore the galaxies. In 1992, she discovered a galaxy (NGC 4550) in which half the stars in the disk are orbiting in one direction and half in the opposite direction, with both systems intermingled! Perhaps this resulted from the merging of two galaxies rotating in opposite directions. Rubin has since found several other cases of similarly bizarre behavior. More recently, she and her colleagues found that half the galaxies in the great Virgo cluster show signs of disturbances due to close gravitational encounters with other galaxies.
In recognition of her achievements, Vera Rubin was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and in 1993 was awarded the National Medal of Science.

Cecilia Payne - Gaposchkin

British - American astronomer and astrophysicist who in 1925, proposed in her PhD thesis an explanation for the composition of stars in terms of the relative abundances of hydrogen and helium.
Payne also contributed widely to the physical understanding of variable stars. Much of this work was done in association with the Russian astronomer Sergei Gaposchkin, whom she married in 1934.
From the time she finished her Ph.D. through the 1930s, Payne advised students, conducted research, and lectured—all the usual duties of a professor. Yet, because she was a woman, her only title at Harvard was “technical assistant” to Professor Shapley. Despite being indisputably one of the most brilliant and creative astronomers of the twentieth century, Cecilia Payne was never elected to the elite National Academy of Sciences. But times were beginning to change. In 1956, she was finally made a full professor (the first woman so recognized at Harvard) and chair of the Astronomy Department.
Her fellow astronomers certainly came to appreciate her genius. In 1976, the American Astronomical Society awarded her the prestigious Henry Norris Russell Prize.

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