A T N F    D a i l y    A s t r o n o m y    P i c t u r e

9th of March 2021
International Women's Day: Mary Stahr Carpenter
With yesterday marking International Women's Day, today we recall the work of American astronomer Martha Stahr Carpenter. In her first year of college, Carpenter took an astronomy course given by Leah Allen, and recalled that “it suddenly dawned on me that I could actually become an astronomer.” Carpenter was inspired by Allen to become a member of American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), later going on to serve as president for three terms.

In 1947 Carpenter became an assistant professor in astronomy at Cornell University, becoming the first woman faculty member in Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences. She worked on joint Astronomy/Electrical Engineering project to observe radio waves from the sun and galactic center, which is credited with being the first research program in radio astronomy at an American university.

From 1948 to 1963, Carpener produced a series of lengthy bibliographies of publications on radio astronomy, many of which were in engineering journals and in foreign publications. This was accomplished with the assistance of a team of married women with children who had backgrounds in physics, engineering, astronomy, or foreign languages, and who had the time and interest to help.

In 1954, Carpenter's husband, Jesse, received a Fulbright research award for a sabbatical visit to Australia, and Carpenter received a research grant from CSIRO to join the Division of Radiophysics. Carpenter worked with Frank Kerr and Jim Hindman to map the spiral arms of our Galaxy, using the Potts Hill radio telescopes to observe 21-cm line of neutral hydrogen, with results published in Nature and the Astronomical Journal. She wrote to a colleague the work was “a fascinating subject if there ever was one.”

One of the first Cornell graduate students that Carpenter acted as advisor for was Vera Rubin. Rubin, who went on to have a prestigious career in astronomy, credits one of Carpenter’s courses with initially getting her interested in galactic motions, and also noted that Carpenter was very supportive of her work. The goal of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory project is to conduct the 10-year Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) with an 8.4-m optical telescope in Chile.

This review has drawn from the paper Reminiscences on the Career of Martha Stahr Carpenter: Between a Rock and (Several) Hard Places by Kristine Larsen, 2012, JAAVSO, 40, 51 and "Golden Years of Australian Radio Astronomy: An Illustrated History" by Orchiston, Robertson & Sullivan, to be published by Springer this year.

<<   |   archive   |   about   |   today   *   ATNF   |   Parkes   |   ATCA   |   Mopra   |   VLBI   |   ASKAP   |   >>