Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Mary Adela Blagg- Lunar scientist

Bill Cawley on a Cheadle woman who deserves wider recognition in International Women's Day.

The first week of March is the time of the year given over to celebrate the achievements of women on International Women’s Day. A local woman who, as far as I know, is the only woman to have a crater on the Moon named after her and deserves wider local recognition is described below.

Mary Adela Blagg was born in 1858 in Cheadle. She was the eldest of five daughters and four sons of a solicitor. Largely self-educated in mathematics, she was attracted to astronomy by attending the university extension lectures of J.A. Hardcastle the grandson of the Astronomer Herschel, who encouraged her to original work in selenography” study of moon”.

Blagg achieved international repute by her work on the Moon. In 1900 lunar maps were still based on measurements made at the beginning of the 19th century, but by 1900 means of photographing the Moon had improved considerably. In 1905 Professor Saunder who has worked with Blagg proposed an international committee to remedy lunar nomenclature, and he called for an accurate map of the Moon surface. An untimely death led to Mary Blagg undertaking a crucial role in mapping the Moon . Blagg was already engaged in compiling a list of features. Saunder’s sudden death in 1912 forced her to work on the mapping project completed a year later -the Collated List of Lunar Formations.

In 1920, Blagg joined the Lunar Commission. She secured the best photographs from Paris, Mount Wilson, and other observatories. From these she had by 1922 drawn the maps for the 10 outer portions of the Moon. After 1928 she and Dr K. Muller of Vienna developed a definitive list naming nearly 6,000 features, published as Named Lunar Formations of which the second volume was the atlas, not surpassed in accuracy until the 1960s.

She undertook masses of tedious work for others in effect the number crunching. The originality of her contribution was that she first disentangled the errors of the selenographers who had relied on earlier inaccurate measurements, and then brought order to the chaos that had accumulated in naming features on the Moon.

Blagg was one of the first women to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in January 1916. She died at her home in High Bank in Cheadle in 1944, highly respected and following in the great tradition of the amateur scientist.