The Women in the Moon

Astronomers have named all of the prominent features on the Moon. They are named mostly after great scientists with, not surprisingly, an emphasis on astronomers. Most of the craters are named after men, but there are a number of women in the moon who have made contributions to science.

The task of naming features on the moon began hundreds of years ago. Now, naming is regulated by the International Astronomical Union. There is so far, only one exception to the rule that you have to be dead to have a feature named after you. Armstrong crater is named after the Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong, who was the first human to set foot on our nearest neighbor in space.

There are about twenty craters named after female scientists. The most prominent female astronomer among them is Caroline Herschel. She worked with her brother William Herschel during the 18th century. Caroline discoverd eight comets, numerous nebulae and assisted her brother in the discovery of the planet Uranus.

Annie Jump Cannon has a crater named after her. Cannon came to Harvard University about 1880 to work as a "computer" for the astronomer Edward Pickering. Pickering hired about 40 women which he referred to as computers and their sole job was to catalog photographic plates of the skies. While most of the women were content with doing the monotonous job and having no understanding of what it was they were being asked to do, Annie wanted to understand the science behind the task. She became so good at her job that she eventually won the friendship of Pickering and he allowed her to sit in on his physics lectures, which were normally barred to women. Annie went on to establish a physics laboratory while she continued to work for Pickering for free. By age 33 she became an expert on the spectre of stars and Pickering gave her a salary. She worked there for 42 years, gaining an international reputation.

Another woman who worked for Pickering and who has a crater named after her is Henrietta Swan Leavitt. She discovered Cepheid Variable stars, which were later used to calculate the distances in the universe. Cepheid variables are giant stars whose period of variation is related to its absolute brightness.

The other craters named after women include Antonia C de P.P. Maury, who excelled at spectroscopy, the study of the light emitted from stars. Another crater is named after Agnes Clerke, an astronomy writer who wrote numerous articles on the 1833 Leonid meteor shower. Mary Blagg was a lunar scientist who was key in establishing lists of the official names for lunar features. Louise Jenkins was an astronomer from Yale University who edited the Yale Bright Star Catalog. Finally, there is a crater named after the 18th century astronomer Madame Nicole-Riene Lepaute. She predicted the exact time of a solar eclipse in 1764 as well as the return of Halley's Comet in 1759.

The other women who have craters named after them are not astronomers, but have made contributions to science. Marie Curie, the Nobel prize winning chemist has a crater named after her maiden name Sklodowska. Curie studied radioactivity and discovered the element radium. Mary Somerville was a Scottish Physicist from the 19th century who studied magnetism and wrote numerous science textbooks.

Few of these women, received the proper credit due them at the time of their contributions. Science has tried to make amends for this by giving honor to them on the moon.

Copyright © 1999 Kathy Miles and Charles F. Peters II