Astronomy and Geophysics is Rife With Bullying and Harassment

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden presents an award to Katherine Johnson, the African American mathematician, physicist, and space scientist, who calculated flight trajectories for John Glenn's first orbital flight in 1962, at a reception to honor members of the segregated West Area Computers division of Langley Research Center on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, at the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton, VA. Afterward, the guests attended a premiere of "Hidden Figures" a film which stars Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson, Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan, and Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson. Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

It’s a common reassurance made by adults to teens and adolescents who constantly face the threat of violence, cyberbullying, and ostracism: “It gets better.” Once you graduate, once you grow up and join the workforce, all the mistreatment and abuse will cease and people will appreciate you for who you are. All the hard work and perseverance you’ve shown over these many years will finally pay off.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and even the STEM fields are not immune. This was the conclusion reached by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) based on a recent survey of 650 astronomers and geophysicists. What they found was that in 44% of cases, respondents reported bullying and harassment in the workplace during the preceding year, which was disproportionately high for women and minorities.

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Who was Christiaan Huygens?

Portrait of Christiaan Huygens, painted by von Bernard Vaillant in 1686. Credit: Hofwijck Museum, Voorburg/Public Domain

The 17th century was a very auspicious time for the sciences, with advancements being made in the fields of physics, mathematics, chemistry, and the natural sciences. But it was perhaps in the field of astronomy that the greatest achievements were made. In the space of a century, several planets and moons were observed for the first time, accurate models were made to predict the motions of the planets, and the law of universal gravitation was conceived.

In the midst of this, the name of Christiaan Huygens stands out among the rest. As one of the preeminent scientists of his time, he was pivotal in the development of clocks, mechanics and optics. And in the field of astronomy, he discovered Saturn’s Rings and its largest moon – Titan. Thanks to Huygens, subsequent generations of astronomers were inspired to explore the outer Solar System, leading to the discovery of other Cronian moons, Uranus, and Neptune in the following century.

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Astronomy Cast Ep. 361: Modern Women: Maria Zuber

Maria Zuber with students. Credit: NASA

Maria Zuber is one of the hardest working scientists in planetary science, being a part of six different space missions to explore the Solar System. Currently, she’s the lead investigator for NASA’s GRAIL mission.

Visit the Astronomy Cast Page to subscribe to the audio podcast!

We record Astronomy Cast as a live Google+ Hangout on Air every Monday at 12:00 pm Pacific / 3:00 pm Eastern. You can watch here on Universe Today or from the Astronomy Cast Google+ page.

Annual Atlanta Star Party Coming Soon!

The 2012 Atlanta Star Party. Credit: Bruce Press

If you happen to be attending DragonCon or just live near Atlanta, come and listen to some fantastic speakers and help do astronomy research and education at the Annual Atlanta Star Party!

What: Since 2009, this annual charity event celebrates science and space, and brings people together for a great cause.

When: August 28, 2014, 7:00 p.m.

Pamela Gay and the crew at the 2013 Atlanta Star Party. Credit: Bruce Press
Pamela Gay and the crew at the 2013 Atlanta Star Party. Credit: Bruce Press

Who: Astronomers Pamela Gay, Nicole Gugliucci and Derek Demeter will be speaking at the event.

Where: The Emory University Math and Physics Department hosts the celebration at The Emory Math & Science Center, 400 Dowman Drive, Atlanta, GA 30322.

Why: Proceeds from the Star Party go to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America and CosmoQuest. And, as always, we throw this party in memory of Jeff Medkeff, the “Blue-Collar Scientist.”

Family fun at the 2012 Atlanta Star Party. Credit: Bruce Press.
Family fun at the 2013 Atlanta Star Party. Credit: Bruce Press.

Tickets can be bought at and you can share the promo code STARRY2014 for $5 off.

There is also a silent auction already started at:

Now Available: 30 Free Lectures by Noted Astronomers

We just received a note from Andrew Franknoi and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific that they are making available, free of charge, 30 audio and video podcasts from talks given by distinguished astronomers on the latest ideas and discoveries in the field. Speakers include:

* Frank Drake, who began the experimental search for intelligent life among the stars,
* Mike Brown, who discovered most of the dwarf planets beyond Pluto (and whose humorous talk is entitled “How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming”),
* Natalie Batalha, project scientists on the Kepler Mission to find Earths around other stars,
* Alex Filippenko (national professor of the year) on finding black holes.

Recent topics added to the offerings include: multiple universes, Saturn’s moon Titan (with an atmosphere, rivers, and lakes), our explosive Sun, and whether we should expect doomsday in 2012.

The talks are part of the Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures, jointly sponsored by NASA’s Ames Research Center, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the SETI Institute, and Foothill College.
They are available via the web and ITunes. For a complete list and to begin listening, go to:

James Elliot, Discoverer of Uranus Ring System, Dies

James Elliot, 1943–2011


Astronomer James Elliot, a professor at MIT, has passed away at the age of 67. Elliot was part of a team of astronomers from Cornell University that discovered the rings around the planet Uranus in 1977. Elliot specialized in the techniques of planetary astronomy, particularly stellar occultations, to probe planetary atmospheres and the physical properties of small bodies in the outer solar system and beyond. Of particular interest to him was Pluto, Triton, Kuiper Belt objects and extrasolar planets. Steve Tilford from Steve’s Astro Corner knew Elliot personally and has written a very nice retrospective on Elliot’s life.

Famous Astronomers

Galileo Galilei


Throughout the centuries, many astronomers have made incredible discoveries and contributions to science. I cannot do justice to all of them by any means, so I will concentrate on a few of the most famous astronomers throughout history.

Claudius Ptolemy was an astronomer and mathematician in Alexandria. He wrote an extensive treatise on astronomy known as the Almagest. It mapped out complex movements of the stars and planets. His model was geocentric, meaning he placed the Earth at the center of the universe. This geocentric model was widely accepted for more than a thousand years in many cultures. It is often known as the Ptolemaic model.

Galileo Galilei lived between 1564 and 1642 in Italy. He was a physicist and astronomer. Galileo created the first telescope, although his first model was very weak. His next one though was strong enough that he could see craters on the Moon, four of Jupiter’s moons, anda number of stars in the Milky Way.

The Polish astronomer Nicolas Copernicus lived between 1473 and 1543. He is famous for his theory tha the Sun is the center of the universe, not the Earth. His theory is often known as the Copernican model. It was years before his model became widely accepted though.

Johannes Kepler was a famous German astronomer who lived between 1571 and 1630. He was the first person to identify planetary motion. Kepler is probably most famous for his three laws of planetary motion, which describe the motion of two celestial bodies such as a planet and its star.

Edmond Halley lived between 1656 and 1742. He predicted the orbit of the Halley Comet, which was named in his honor. He also published an extensive catalog of stars and created a diving bell, which he improved throughout the years.

Sir Friedrich William Herschel, often known as William Herschel, was a famous astronomer of the late18th to the early 19th century. He is famous for having discovered the plant Uranus and two of its moons. He also made over 400 telescopes during his life. Herschel discovered two of Saturn’s moons – Mimas and Enceladus.

Clyde Tombaugh is an American astronomer who is best known for discovering Pluto in 1930. Pluto was considered a planet for 76 years until it was reclassified as a dwarf planet. He did not actually have any astronomy degrees until after he discovered Pluto when he studied astronomy. He also discovered a number of asteroids.

Universe Today has more articles on astronomers are people too and artist creates portrait gallery of astronomers.

If you are looking for more information, check out famous astronomers and influential astronomers

Astronomy Cast has an episode on building a career in astronomy.

NASA: Cosmology
NASA: Kepler
NASA: Edmond Halley
NASA: Clyde Tombaugh