Australian and New Zealand Women in Astronomy

Australian and New Zealand women have made invaluable contributions to  the field of Astronomy – here’s just some of them.

New Zealand raised and educated theoretical astrophysicist, Professor Beatrice Tinsley, published over 100 paper during her career which was sadly cut short by her death from melanoma at just 40 in 1981.  She graduated from Canterbury University College with a masters  degree in physics and a PhD from the University of Texas on the theories behind the evolution of galaxies.

Beatrice moved to Yale University where she became their first female professor of astronomy.  She also contributed to research about whether the Universe is open or closed and the shapes of proto-galaxies.

To commemorate Professor Tinleys’ life,  New Zealand named a mountain after her in the country’s Fiordland’s Kepler Mountains.



Ruby Payne-Scott is a famous Australian astronomer, known for her pioneering work in radio physics and radio astronomy.  Born in 1912 in Grafton NSW, she started studying at Sydney University at the age of 16 and obtained a first class honours degree in maths and physics. After obtaining a masters degree  in physics, she worked physicist at the Cancer Research Institute, but after this project closed and without jobs for women physics, she ended up teaching.

Finding work with AWA, Ruby moved to the CSIRO where she worked on radar and Solar Astronomy.  She made major contributions to  the techniques of radio astronomy including leading the design and construction of equipment to image the Sun 25 times a second,  as well as discovering three of the five different types of Solar Corona outbursts.

Her career was marked by political battles and struggles for women’s rights, especially around those equal pay and the right of married women to continue to work.

You can read more about Ruby Payne-Scott’s life at the CSIRO website here.


 Mary Emma Greayer was employed at the Adelaide Observatory from 1890 to 1898, working on The Astrographic Catalogue or “AC”, a vast project undertaken by 19th century astronomers around the world to chart and record the position of millions of faint stars. The  results of the AC and other catalogues such as the incomplete Carte du Ciel became  not much more than historical curiosities for many decades until they were combined with more recent surveys to used to produce results about the movement or “proper motion” of stars.

During her time at the Adelaide Observatory, Mary Geayer worked cataloging stars, their positions as well as calibrating instruments.  During the day, she also working calculating the co-ordinates of many stars that were used in the AC.  Her marriage meant she could no longer work as was common in those times and caused a halt to the survey.

‘Since Mr Griffith’s marriage which has deprived me of Miss Greayer’s services we have been unable to observe any of your Astrographic stars. . .’

Mary Geayer also was one of the first women to join the Adelaide Astronomical Society in 1893.

 Charlotte Emily Fforde Peel was  originally employed as casual by the Melbourne Observatory, but in 1900 became the first female astronomer to be employed full time in Australia. She worked on the part of the AC that had been assigned to Australia. As any astronomer would know, the southern skies above our head are particularly rich and full of stars of a wide variety of magnitudes.  Charlotte measured stars,  produced the positions using a logarithmic formulae,  corrected the errors of the other workers as well as calibrating astronomical instruments and measuring devices – all before the advent of computers!

Charlotte also observed and measured two comets – Comet C/1913 YI (Delavan) and Cmet C/1915 CI (Mellish)

Melbourne Observatory staff in 1914 Charlotte is in the middle row, far right

For more background information about some of Australia’s early pioneers in astronomy, please read Dr Toner Stevenson here.


Earl White



Shopping cart0
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping