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Fiercely intelligent astronomer helped bring space to masses; THE QUEEN OF SCIENCE.

When she died, a national newspaper said there was no question Mary Somerville was the "queen of science".

Mary, born in Burntisland in 1780, broke through the glass ceiling into science after cracking puzzles in a magazine as a teenager.

With the help of her brother, she obtained Euclid's geometry and other school textbooks which were usually reserved for boys. Her father tried to forbid the books, fearing reading them would "affect her femininity", while the "mental effort could drive her crazy".

Mary was married to the Russian consul for Britain, Samuel Greig, and he also did not approve of her academic brain.

Greig "possessed in full the prejudice against learned women which was common at that time" but he died after three years of marriage, after which Somerville was free to pursue her interests. She began to solve mathematical problems posed in leading 18th-Century journals and, after winning several awards for her skills, became respected by scientists across Europe.

She went on to publish several books on astronomy and physics, which were hailed as helping popularise the topics for a mass audience.

One of these books was The Mechanism Of The Heavens, which was taught at Cambridge. In 1835, Somerville, along with Caroline Herschel, became the first women members of the prestigious Royal Astronomical Society.

Mary became a leading figure in public science, and also eventually for women's rights.

It was a passion she had developed as a reaction to her conservative father.

"From my earliest years my mind revolved against oppression and tyranny," she wrote, "and I resented the injustice of the world in denying all those privileges of education to my sex which were so lavishly bestowed on men."

Philosopher John Stuart Mill presented a petition to Parliament in 1868 calling on women to be allowed the right to vote - and Mary Somerville's name was first on the list.

She died in 1872 but remains celebrated as one of the most renowned women in the history of science.

As well as a crater on the moon, one of the Committee Rooms of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh was named after her and, in 2017, her face was added to the Royal Bank of Scotland PS10 note.

SPACE WOMEN The women scientists honoured on the moon include: Hypatia of Alexandria (370-415AD) Acclaimed astronomer from Egypt Catherine of Alexandria (287-305) A philosopher put to death by the Romans Nicole-Reine de la Briere Lepaute (1723-1788) Astronomer predicted return of Halley's Comet Caroline Herschel (1750-1848). A German astronomer was the first woman to receive a salary as a scientist Annie Cannon (1863-1941) American suffragist and astronomer, instrumental in how astronomy classifies stars Mary Proctor (1862-1957) Popularised astronomy with books for children Marie Curie (1867-1934) Became the first woman to win Nobel Prize Lise Meitner (1878) Austrian-Swedish physicist whose research led to the development of nuclear reactors Amalie Noether (1882-1935) Iconic woman in the history of mathematics Laurel Clark (1961-2003) Clark died along with six other crew members in the Columbia shuttle disaster. Won the Congressional Space Medal of Honour. Valentina Tereshkova (1937-). The first and youngest woman to have flown in space in June 1963. She remains to be the only woman to have been on a solo space mission.


Mary Somerville and crater named after her on moon
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Publication:The Sunday Post (Aberdeen,Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 30, 2019
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