Western Slope Skies - Women In Astronomy

Dec 19, 2014

This is an ongoing series on Women in Astronomy.  Today, we meet three modern women in astronomy, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Andrea Ghez, and Carolyn Porco.

As part of her PHD research, Jocelyn Bell Burnell built and operated a radiotelescope.  She was studying the scintillation of radio waves in the solar system. During the course of the work, she found a persistent, repeatable signal coming from outside the solar system. The periodic nature led some to believe that the signal was from extra-terrestrial life.  Burnell, in jest, named the signals LGM for Little Green Men. 

Eventually, she and her advisers determined that the signals came from a very rapidly rotating neutron star.  She had found the first pulsar, one of the most important discoveries in stellar evolution. Today she is a full professor in physics at The Open University in England.

Andrea Ghez received her Bachelor’s degree in physics from MIT and a PhD from CalTech. She is a recognized world expert in black hole research. She currently uses the 10-meter Keck telescopes in Hawaii with the application of advanced imaging techniques, such as adaptive optics, to study the relative motions of the stars that orbit the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.  

She has received numerous awards for her work, including the Annie Jump Cannon Award in Astronomy and the Crafoord Prize, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in sciences for which the Nobel Prize is not given..

Carolyn Porco is a senior planetary scientist in Boulder.  She is the lead imaging scientist on the Cassini project.  Cassini is the satellite that has been orbiting Saturn since July 1, 2004 and has taken spectacular images of Saturn and its moons.  The data from Cassini has greatly expanded our understanding of the solar system.

She is also an imaging scientist on the New Horizons mission, which will reach Pluto in 2015.

Western Slope Skies is produced by members of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society.  This episode was written and recorded by Bryan Cashion.