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Scoping Out Women

Dave North


... She was cut to pieces with pottery shards and fragments of her body spread throughout Alexandria.



One of the coolest — and most exclusive — clubs in the world is the People Who Have Something On The Moon Named After Them Society.

By far, most are dead men, and the further back you go in the naming lists, the dumber it gets (there are various people Liked By Old Popes, for example, who are better forgotten).

But features named more recently do not follow the same pattern. Most of them are named for people who actually earned the distinction, and many of them are women.

I'm not sure how many, exactly, so this isn't a compendious discussion of the subject. Rather, I'm going to try to have some fun with it.

And if you want, you can get out a scope and see many of them, without any clothes on! Lunar pornography...

Oddly, one of the most distinguished is also one of the oldest, by in how long it's been named and how long ago she lived. It's should be pretty easily seen on May 17. But what's the name?

Hypatia. You'll find her guarding the gates between Serenity and Nectaris, on a promontory just south of the first Apollo landing.

So why is she on the Moon? Partly because of her accomplishments: she was an astronomical scholar of the first rank, author of The Astronomical Canon and a developer of the Ptolemaic school of astronomy. She was perhaps more famous as a mathematician, in particular concentrating conic sections.

But she was also a well-respected general philosopher, very popular with the people of Alexandria and recognized throughout the known world at that time.

It may also be a matter of some importance that she was reputed to be extremely beautiful, and of the highest moral character. It was definitely an issue that she was not Christian.

The story has it she was murdered by a gang of monks at the orders of St. Cyril (one of the idiots who has a crater named after him. In some small justice, it's a wrecked old mess). Apparently Cyril not only couldn't stand so much fame and respect aimed at someone not of his faith, but was miffed that she rejected his affections as well.

This was no sudden event. She was a subject of controversey for years before her death, and knew what she was risking in sticking by her convictions, both intellectual and spiritual.

In the end, she was cut to pieces with pottery shards and fragments of her body spread throughout Alexandria.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that the crater Hypatia has one of the more unique shapes: it resembles a heart.

Few scientists or mathematicians have accomplished the level of fame and respect she earned, and very few indeed paid such a price for it.

A little later in the month, on the 21st, we get something of a treat: the terminator will be passing through Sinus Iridum and giving that amazing view you can only get when it is "hanging off" into the dark side. The play of the Bay Of Rainbows.

More topically, though, a bit south of it you'll see a smallish crater right on the terminator. That's named for Carolyn Herschel, comet hunter extraordinare. She was the first woman ever to discover a comet and ended up with eight "kills" to her name.

Born in 1750 and described as the "first famous woman in astronomy since Hypatia" (fitting we're going in this order, no?) she personally favored music over astronomy.

In fact, she got involved because of her singing: her brother William (maybe you've heard of him?) imported her to England to sing soprano in his compositions.

She only helped out at first, grinding mirrors and taking notes while William pursued his sky survey.

After he discovered Uranus, William gave up music altogether and pretty much ended Carolyn's career as a result. At first she was not very happy about this, but soon found it freed up her time to engage in astronomy, which she took up with a passion.

Aside from her comets, she also found something I think we all have enjoyed: NGC 253 is one of her finds.

She was never much impressed by her own accomplishments, but subsequent generations have improved on her thinking.

Almost a week later, on the 27th, a very hard target will present itself way out on the limb. Fortunately, we'll have a favorable libration to help us out, but it might actually be fitting that Cannon is hard to find: the things Annie Jump Cannon found were also difficult, and it took someone of her singular nature to find them.

Annie studied astronomy at Wellesly, specializing in spectroscopy. After working as an astronomy professor for some time (and various other tasks in life) she secured a job working for Edward Pickering at Harvard in 1894, reducing observations and calculating results.

This meant she spent an enormous amount of time looking over spectral data, hands-on.

She was the woman who finally settled the star classification scheme on the OBAFGKM system we still largely use today. Others had pressed in this direction, but it was left to her (and her phenomenal eye for spectra) to settle the issue once and for all.

Even more important, she was able to categorize enough stars (in the end, something over 450,000) to establish that there really weren't all that many spectral categories, and that color and temperature were related in intimate ways.

She had to work very hard to find what she did, so you shouldn't complain if you have to work a bit to see her crater.


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