Dorrit Hoffleit




Born in Florence, Alabama, Hoffleit earned an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Radcliffe College in 1928 and a doctorate in astronomy from Radcliffe in 1938. At age 23 she joined the American Association of Variable Star Observers and began working as a research assistant at Harvard College Observatory under Harlow Shapley. She calculated missile trajectories during World War II and eventually joined the astronomy department at Yale, where she remained until her official 1975 retirement, although she continued to work daily from her office until well into her 90s. 





Among her many achievements, she was the author of the Bright Star Catalogue, a compendium of information on the 9,110 brightest stars in the sky; she co-authored The General Catalogue of Tirgonametric Stellar Parallaxes, containing precise distance measurements to 8,112 stars, information critical to understanding the kinematics of the Milky Way Galaxy and the evolution of the solar neighborhood. In 1988, Hoffleit was awarded the George Van Biesbroeck Prize by the American Astronomical Society for a lifetime of service to astronomy.

She also wrote Sky & Telescope magazine’s news notes from its second issue in 1941 until the mid 1950s, with ad-hoc contributions until 1997. She also helped and encouraged young women pursuing astronomy, training college undergraduates during summer months from 1957 to 1978 at the Maria Mitchell Observatory in Massachusetts.

The oldest astronomer to ever live, she died at age 100 in March 2007, having published her autobiography, Misfortunes as Blessings in Disguise, five years previously. 

She is an Astronomer - IYA2009 Cornerstone Project

Promoting gender equality and empowering women is one of the United Nations Millenium Development Goals. The aim of the IYA2009 cornerstone project, 'She is an Astronomer', is to provide information to female professional and amateur astronomers, students, and those interested in the gender equality problem in science and provide a focal point and forum for women in astronomy.



Women in astronomy at Harvard circa 1917 and at the European Week of Space and Astronomy 2009 (with Bridget, the ExoMars rover prototype).

Approximately one quarter of all professional astronomers are women. In some countries there are no female astronomers, whilst in others more than half the professional astronomers are female. The drop in numbers towards more senior levels suggests that scientific careers are heavily affected by social and cultural factors, and are not determined solely by ability. This loss, not least in terms of the financial investment in training and then losing women at higher levels, means that it is in the interest of all societies to ensure that these factors are addressed.

As part of the ongoing plans, 'She is an Astronomer' is looking to collect and disseminate statistics and information that can be used as quantitative, factual data to back up discussions on gender equality in astronomy. Through a series of meetings and workshops, 'She is an Astronomer' also aims to raise some of the issues that are of common concern to women working in the field and present solutions to tackle them, identifying and sharing Best Practice techniques.

Throughout IYA2009, we will be holding monthly polls on our front page about some of the key issues facing women in astronomy and set up a forum to discuss the wider implications.

As IYA2009 progresses the website will grow: profiles of current and historical women astronomers will be added and we will be expanding the resources section. At the end of the year, the information gathered will be retained and maintained as a legacy from IYA2009.

She is an Astronomer Task Group

Helen Walker (UK - Co-Chair)
Francesca Primas (ESO/Italy - Co-Chair)
Eniko Patkos (ESO/Hungary - Co-Chair)

Catherine Cesarsky (IAU/France)
Maria Lugaro (Australia/Italy)
Chris De Pree (USA)
Gloria Dubner (Argentina)
Patricia Knezek (USA)
Sarah Maddison (Australia)
Mary Beth Laychak (USA)
Yiping Wang (China)
Danielle Alloin (France)
Lebohang William Kompi (Lesotho)
Doug Duncan (USA)
Patrica Whitelock (South Africa)
Anja Andersen (Denmark)


'She is an Astronomer' Events

NEW Event

2010 November 9 - 27 - UK - 'Bright Star' at Tabbard Theatre, London

A play about the life of Beatrice Tinsley, cosmologist, wife, mother, daughter and musician.


2010 September 7 - Portugal - Women's lunch session at JENAM in Lisbon

See the link for more details about the lunch session. There will also be 'She is an Astronomer' related talks in the IYA2009 session 'Education and outreach after IYA2009 in Europe'.


2010 April 22/23 - UK - She is an astronomer conference - Royal Astronomical Society London


2009 December 13 - 2010 April 4 - Germany

Opening on 13 December with Burgomeisterin Angelica Maria Kappel, Dr Helen Walker, Ulrike Tscherner-Bertoldi, Marianne Pitzen, Dr Nadya Ben Bekhti



Past events

2009 January 31 onwards - Mexico -"Ella es astrónoma" exhibition of photographs by Robin Cerutti

2009 April 20 -23 - UK - Launch of international IYA2009 cornerstoneShe is an Astronomer at European Week of Astronomy and Space Science meeting (

2009 May 14 - December 31 - Australia - 'Astronomy in a Nutshell' exhibition, with a section on women in astronomy, at Monash Science Centre (

2009 May 21 - Portugal - Public lecture on Women in Astronomy by Rosa Doran atObservatory, Mira

2009 July 3 - Ireland- Dr Carolyn Porco -Saturn: Tripping the Light Fantastic (

2009 July 31 - Ireland - Jayanne English- Cosmos versus Canvas: Tensions between Art and Science in Astronomy Images(

2009 August 3 - 14 - Brazil - International Astronomical Union General Assembly - including sessions on women in astronomy (

2009 August 9 - New Mexico - Astronomy special event for girls (

2009 August 20 - September 6 - Australia - Play 'Razing Hypatia' by Jane Montgomery Griffiths, Stork Theatre, St Kilda(

2009 September 4 - Ireland - Deirdre Kelleghan -Our Moon, some Moon Stories and Moon News(

2009 September 7 - UK - Real life returners - the stories behind the success - British Science Festival - University of Surrey

2009 September 7 - UK - Women doing science: She's an Astronomer - British Science Festival - University of Surrey

2009 September 10- UK - Inspiring Women - British Science Festival- Women's Engineering Society, University of Surrey (

2009 September 14 - USA - The Women Astronomer's journey - Millett Hall Atrium, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio.

2009 September 17 - Germany - She is a Planetary Scientist - European Planetary Science Congress, Potsdam, Germany.

2009 October 8 - Rome, Italy - International Conference on Women and Space (

2009 October 12-13 - Lisbon, Portugal - Women Empowerment in Science -II International Amonet Meeting (

2009 October 17 - USA - New York Public Library - The Uptown Planetarium and Donna Stearns present: Minding the Heavens, The Life of Caroline Herschel by Dr Mark Littmann; Directed by Jerry Marco.

2009 October 21 - 23 - USA - Women in astronomy and space science: Meeting the challenges of an increasingly diverse workforce at College Park, MD

2009 October 27 - Belgium -Mesurer le Système Solaire : de Newton à GAIA (lecture) (

2009 November 3 - UK - Book launch: Women in Early British and Irish Astronomy by Mary Brück at Royal Astronomical Society London (

2009 November 16 - Belgium - Le fond cosmique micro-onde: une fenêtre vers l’univers primordial (

2009 November 25/30 - Australia -Book launch: Under the Radar: Ruby Payne-Scott (pioneer in radio astronomy) by Goss and McGeeat Sydney University(25 Nov) and CSIRO Canberra (30 Nov) (

2009 November 30 - Belgium - Les étoiles au plomb (


- 'Women in Astronomy - Reaching for the Stars' (Astronominnen - Frauen die nach den Sternen greifen) Exhibition, lectures, discussions and more at Frauenmuseum Bonn (

siaa_profilesThe 'She is an Astronomer' task group invited female astronomers from around the world, at different stages to reflect on their careers. We supplied a questionnaire to help them focus on the key issues for She is an Astronomer, but they did not have to answer the questions directly and could submit an essay instead.

During 2009 more profiles will be added.


Helen Walker (UK)


Shuhua Ye (China)


Conny Aerts (Belgium)


Yolanda Gomez (Mexico)


Annapurni Subramaniam (India)


Ewine F van Dishoeck (the Netherlands)


Emily Baldwin (UK)


Rachel Akerson (USA)


Deborah Dultzin (Mexico)


Penny Sackett (Australia)


Debra Shepherd (USA)


Karen Pollard (New Zealand)


Maria Lugaro (Australia)


Alison Peck (Chile)


Sarah Maddison (Australia)


Sarah Bridle (UK)


Patricia Whitelock (South Africa)


Minnie Yuan Mao (Australia)


Amy Lovell (USA)


Chiaki Kabayashi (Australia)


Anne Green (Australia)