Book Review: Woman Astronomers – Reaching for the Stars

by Mark Mortimer on April 10, 2008


Perhaps it is time for a female president. If nothing else, this would continue the laborious road to equality. Mabel Armstrong shows some of the steps already taken along this road in her book Woman Astronomers: Reaching for the Stars. In it, we see that, from a long time ago until as recently as the previous generation, many ladies have been unable to achieve the desires of their hearts and minds. However, some have persevered and become pioneers for many others to follow.

Whether being refused access to telescopes or being denied entry to university programs, Armstrong shows that woman have had many barriers in their path. Perhaps this is old news, but Armstrong writes that as recently as 1975, universities like Princeton would not accept women into graduate programs. Nevertheless, her book is all about accomplishments in spite of roadblocks. Following a chronological trend, she begins with a Babylonian priestess, Enheduanna, who used the night sky to portend the future. Then, age by age, she presents one great achiever after another who advanced humanity’s knowledge in spite of the restrictions of the day. There’s Caroline Herschel who had to overcome many travails at home before joining her brother in England. And Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin who rebelled against tradition to study science and receive Harvard’s first ever astronomy PhD. Jill Cornell Tarter’s work on discerning extraterrestrial intelligence concludes the main sections on individuals, though Armstrong adds a few pages of rising stars. All these serve to symbolize the capability and vitality of some very impressive women.


Armstrong’s book may just be the necessary incentive for a young lady to choose a challenging career. From its writing style and content, it’s obviously aimed at the young adult audience. The well laid out chapters contain short sections where each section provides a concise biography of a woman astronomer. Across the bottom of every page, a timeline provides dates and significant events, such as ‘1786 Caroline Herschel discovers her first comet’. Pictures of each of the astronomers and many other relevant photographs and sketches brighten up the pages. And, a few in-depth features captured in side bars such as ‘Cepheid Variables and Stellar Distances’ ensure the reader has the technical background to understand the significant of the astronomer’s discoveries. Altogether, the book’s informative and succinct. Its obvious summary is that women are as capable an astronomer as any man.

Certainly, this warm tribute to women astronomers would encourage young ladies to take up tasks far beyond the traditional role of child nurturer. However, the book does have a tendency to make the mentioned women appear to have been the solely responsible for most accomplishments. Perhaps this is only fair, as so often only one person, usually a man, would get the accolades. But, now, astronomers and researchers work in teams and rely upon many others. Hence, though this book provides great encouragement, the reader may need to temper their enthusiasm while still maintaining a fierce, single-minded determination.

Baseless discriminations keep falling to the wayside. Whether entering research fields once only the domain of men or forcing clubs and institutes to accept women and men equally, much progress has been made. Mabel Armstrong’s book Woman Astronomers: Reaching for the Stars shows that women astronomers can and have added to humanity’s knowledge and that their contributions have been as worthwhile as men’s.

Read more reviews, or purchase a copy online from Amazon.com.

About 

Mr. Mortimer is the president and CEO for the Lunar Colony Fund. He is leading this registered non-profit organization to be the focus for those people worldwide who want to support a human capability beyond the cradle of Earth.

Mr. Mortimer has had an extensive career across many fields including government, defence contractor, telecommunications, institutions, environmental agencies and fundraisers. He`s written reviews for space related publications as well as written a book on the attribution of civilization`s progress to the availability of energy. By establishing a singularly focused fund, he will resolve the single most challenging aspect of space; the monies needed to enable our reach to the stars.

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