SOCIETY LECTURE – WOMEN IN ASTRONOMY – MARY MCINTYRE FRAS
Historically, astronomy has been very male-dominated. Throughout history there have been a number of trail-blazing women, such as Caroline Herschel, who worked to change that. But in addition there were countless less well known women who were doing astronomy. This talk is a celebration of women who worked in astronomy during different periods of history and some of the challenges they have faced.
I was born and raised in Lancashire and I have loved astronomy since I was a child. I inherited a fascination of the Moon from my Mum, who was a child of the Apollo era and has always been interested in astronomy herself. I had my head in the astronomy sections of our encyclopaedia set before I could even properly read the text! I was really captivated by a Ladybird book about the constellations and their mythology, and to this day I think of the images in that book when I look at the night sky. I got my first telescope for my 11th birthday (the best birthday ever!) and despite not having a clue about how to use it properly, I did successfully view the Moon through it and managed to do a solar projection using instructions from a book. In the absence of an astronomy mentor, I didn’t really progress beyond the basics for many years.
My passion for the subject was re-ignited when I became disabled and had to give up work for a number of years. During 2010/2011, my Mum and I had the opportunity to study for the Astronomy GCSE and this is where my astrophotography journey began, with a Helios refractor, Canon Powershot compact camera and a pair of elastic bands! My interest was well and truly piqued after studying the GCSE and I then went on to study the Certificate in Astronomy and Planetary Science via the Open University.
I am now a keen astrophotographer and a move to the dark skies of rural Oxfordshire to live with my husband and fellow astronomer, Mark, has helped to fuel this passion. I’m lucky enough to have had my images appear in astronomy magazines, astronomy books, local and national newspapers, and on various tv shows. I don’t have a particular specialist area of astrophotography; basically if it’s in the sky I like to photograph it! If I am in too much pain to take my camera outside, I work with remote access telescopes. I also love astronomy sketching because it makes me feel better “connected” with the object I’m observing; if I’m committing it to paper I have to study it extremely closely first. I have found sketching has helped to really improve my astronomy knowledge.
I enjoy writing and have had many articles appear in Sky at Night magazine, the Year Book of Astronomy. I have made numerous appearances on BBC Radio Oxford, talking about various astronomy events, including having a reporter observing the 2015 Lunar eclipse in the garden with me. In 2018 I appeared on BBC Five Live. I also did a live Skype link to them from the USA after we’d seen the Total Solar Eclipse in August 2017. I once appeared on The One Show showing our observatory shed.
I am also a regular co-host on the Astronomy FM radio show “Comet Watch” as well as being a regular panel member on the Astro Radio show Reach Out and Touch Space. I am passionate about outreach and when my health allows it, I keep busy giving talks on a variety of astronomy subjects along with practical astrophotography and astronomy sketching workshops to people of all age ranges.
In March 2018 I was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. I am also a member of the British Astronomical Association, the Society for Popular Astronomy and the Society for the History of Astronomy. In 2021 I was awarded the Sir Patrick Moore prize by the British Astronomical Association for my contributions to astronomy outreach.
When I’m not doing astronomy related activities, I enjoy other types of photography and microscopy. I play bass guitar and sing with local musicians. Other hobbies include art and crafts, and I love creating artwork and jewellery which is inspired by astronomy. I enjoy baking and creating special effects props and make up looks which fuel my obsession with Halloween! I also love spending quality time with our four cats.