If confirmed, this discovery would represent the widest reach ever seen for a black hole acting as a stellar kick-starter — enhancing star formation more than one million light-years away. (One light year is equal to 6 trillion miles.)
A black hole is an extremely dense object from which no light can escape. The black hole’s immense gravity pulls in surrounding gas and dust. Sometimes, black holes hinder star birth. Sometimes — like perhaps in this case — they increase star birth.
Since the 19th century, women have been making strides in areas like coding, computing, programming and space travel, despite the challenges they have faced. Sally Ride joined NASA in 1983 and five years later she became the first female American astronaut. Ride’s accomplishments paved the way for the dozens of other women who became astronauts, and the hundreds of thousands more who pursued careers in science and technology. Just last week, we celebrated our very first #AllWomanSpacewalk with astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir.
Here are just a couple of examples of pioneers who brought us to where we are today:
Computers played a role in major projects ranging from World War II aircraft testing to transonic and supersonic flight research and the early space program. Women working as computers at Langley found that the job offered both challenges and opportunities. With limited options for promotion, computers had to prove that women could successfully do the work and then seek out their own opportunities for advancement.
Revolutionizing X-ray Astronomy
Marjorie Townsend was blazing trails from a very young age. She started college at age 15 and became the first woman to earn an engineering degree from the George Washington University when she graduated in 1951. At NASA, she became the first female spacecraft project manager, overseeing the development and 1970 launch of the UHURU satellite. The first satellite dedicated to x-ray astronomy, UHURU detected, surveyed and mapped celestial X-ray sources and gamma-ray emissions.
Women of Apollo
NASA’s mission to land a human on the Moon for the very first time took hundreds of thousands workers. These are some of the stories of the women who made our recent #Apollo50th anniversary possible:
• Margaret Hamilton led a NASA team of software engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and helped develop the flight software for NASA’s Apollo missions. She also coined the term “software engineering.” Her team’s groundbreaking work was perfect; there were no software glitches or bugs during the crewed Apollo missions.
• JoAnn Morgan was the only woman working in Mission Control when the Apollo 11 mission launched. She later accomplished many NASA “firsts” for women: NASA winner of a Sloan Fellowship, division chief, senior executive at the Kennedy Space Center and director of Safety and Mission Assurance at the agency.
• Judy Sullivan, was the first female engineer in the agency’s Spacecraft Operations organization, was the lead engineer for health and safety for Apollo 11, and the only woman helping Neil Armstrong suit up for flight.
Author Margot Lee Shetterly’s book – and subsequent movie – Hidden Figures, highlighted African-American women who provided instrumental support to the Apollo program, all behind the scenes.
• An alumna of the Langley computing pool, Mary Jackson was hired as the agency’s first African-American female engineer in 1958. She specialized in boundary layer effects on aerospace vehicles at supersonic speeds.
• An extraordinarily gifted student, Katherine Johnson skipped several grades and attended high school at age 13 on the campus of a historically black college. Johnson calculated trajectories, launch windows and emergency backup return paths for many flights, including Apollo 11.
• Christine Darden served as a “computress” for eight years until she approached her supervisor to ask why men, with the same educational background as her (a master of science in applied mathematics), were being hired as engineers. Impressed by her skills, her supervisor transferred her to the engineering section, where she was one of few female aerospace engineers at NASA Langley during that time.
Lovelace’s Woman in Space Program
Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb was the among dozens of women recruited in 1960 by Dr. William Randolph “Randy” Lovelace II to undergo the same physical testing regimen used to help select NASA’s first astronauts as part of his privately funded Woman in Space Program.
Ultimately, thirteen women passed the same physical examinations that the Lovelace Foundation had developed for NASA’s astronaut selection process. They were: Jerrie Cobb, Myrtle “K” Cagle, Jan Dietrich, Marion Dietrich, Wally Funk, Jean Hixson, Irene Leverton, Sarah Gorelick, Jane B. Hart, Rhea Hurrle, Jerri Sloan, Gene Nora Stumbough, and Bernice Trimble Steadman. Though they were never officially affiliated with NASA, the media gave these women the unofficial nicknames “Fellow Lady Astronaut Trainees” and the “Mercury Thirteen.”
This material was adapted from a paper written by Shanessa Jackson (Stellar Solutions, Inc.), Dr. Patricia Knezek (NASA), Mrs. Denise Silimon-Hill (Stellar Solutions), and Ms. Alexandra Cross (Stellar Solutions) and submitted to the 2019 International Astronautical Congress (IAC). For more information about IAC and how you can get involved, click here.
In this Hubble image, you’ll find 50 spiral and dwarf galaxies hanging out in our cosmic neighborhood. The main focal point of stars is actually a dwarf galaxy. Dwarf galaxies often show a hazy structure, an ill-defined shape and an appearance somewhat akin to a swarm or cloud of stars — and UGC 685 is no exception to this.
These data were gathered under Hubble’s Legacy ExtraGalactic UV Survey (LEGUS) program, the sharpest and most comprehensive ultraviolet survey of star-forming galaxies in the nearby universe.
Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; the LEGUS team, B. Tully, D. Calzetti
August 26 is celebrated in the United States as Women’s Equality Day. On this day in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was signed into law and American women were granted the constitutional right to vote. The suffragists who fought hard for a woman’s right to vote opened up doors for trailblazers who have helped shape our story of spaceflight, research and discovery. On Women’s Equality Day, we celebrate women at NASA who have broken barriers, challenged stereotypes and paved the way for future generations. This list is by no means exhaustive.
These women were trailblazers at a time when most technical fields were dominated by white men. Janez Lawson (seen in this photo), was the first African American hired into a technical position at JPL. Having graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, she later went on to have a successful career as a chemical engineer.
Mathematician Katherine Johnson, whose life story was told in the book and film “Hidden Figures,” is 101 years old today! Coincidentally, Johnson’s birthday falls on August 26: which is appropriate, considering all the ways that she has stood for women’s equality at NASA and the country as a whole.
Morgan’s career at NASA spanned over 45 years, and she continued to break ceiling after ceiling for women involved with the space program. She excelled in many other roles, including deputy of Expendable Launch Vehicles, director of Payload Projects Management and director of Safety and Mission Assurance. She was one of the last two people who verified the space shuttle was ready to launch and the first woman at KSC to serve in an executive position, associate director of the center.
Oceola Hall worked in NASA’s Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity for over 25 years. She was NASA’s first agency-wide Federal Women’s program manager, from 1974 – 1978. Hall advanced opportunities for NASA women in science, engineering and administrative occupations. She was instrumental in initiating education programs for women, including the Simmons College Strategic Leadership for Women Program.
When those first six women joined the astronaut corps in 1978, they made up nearly 10 percent of the active astronaut corps. In the 40 years since that selection, NASA selected its first astronaut candidate class with equal numbers of women and men, and women now comprise 34 percent of the active astronauts at NASA.
"A couple of firsts here all make me smile,” Blackwell-Thompson said. “First launch director for the world’s most powerful rocket — that’s humbling. And I am honored to be the first female launch director at Kennedy Space Center. So many amazing women that have contributed to human space flight, and they blazed the trail for all of us.”
As we move forward as a space agency, embarking on future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond, we reflect on the women who blazed the trail and broke glass ceilings. Without their perseverance and determination, we would not be where we are today.