Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Name is Winkelmann

Hello, Blogosphere. My name is Maria Winkelmann (okay, so I’m supposed to be a Kirch now, as I took my husband’s name, but I prefer my name, Winkelmann), and I decided to enter this realm in order to share my story with you.

Here's a picture of me while I'm working:

Ever since I was a little girl, my father and uncle fostered my interest in science, as they obstinately believed that it was important for me, as a woman, to have an education that matched any man’s. Thus, with their encouragement and support, I became very interested in astronomy and astrophysics and pursued further education in these fields (on my own, however, since women were not allowed to attend universities). As an autodidact, I am primarily self-taught, but also, much of my edification comes from mentors who took me under their wing. Christopher Arnold and Gottfried Kirch were my two primary mentors when I first developed my identity as an astronomer. As Kirch and I worked together, we fell in love (despite our remarkable age difference), and we started a life together.
            Everyone always assumed that I was Kirch’s assistant, since I am a woman. On the contrary, however, we were partners, and we conducted, facilitated and led all of the experiments as a team. Of course, at the beginning, he had to teach me the skills he acquired over the thirty years I was not alive; however, once this gap was closed, we were able to work together in our research and astronomical experimentation. It was such a pleasure to work with him, even on simply a professional level, as he was one of the first astronomers of our day to begin using a telescope to conduct his studies. Through our research, we were able to create calendars, ephemerides, almanacs, and weather forecast charts.
            The most vivid memory I have from my days of research and study in astronomy was the time I discovered the Comet of 1702. It must be known that I was the one who discovered the comet (and I was the first woman to do so!). Yes, it is true that the comet is named after Gottfried, but this is only because I wanted the discovery published in the German science journal, Acta Eruditorum, which was exclusively written in Latin (and I only knew German). Of course, Gottfried eventually told everyone the truth, but I am sure people still mistakenly believe that he is the one who made the discovery. However, this is all in the past and truth be told, credit was not something for which I sought; I’ve always simply been happy to be doing what I love most.   
Here’s a picture of the beautiful thing!!!

        Eventually, I did start earning credit for my own work. I discovered an aurora borealis (northern lights) in 1707. I also published a pamphlet concerning the conjunction of Saturn and Venus, titled Von der Conjunction der Sonne des Saturni und der Venus. There was a bit of astrology (along with astronomy, of course) in this work, as it is what my patrons and the public demanded. For centuries, astrology and astronomy have been considered synonymous and inseparable. However, it is essential to note that while astrology cannot be conducted without astronomy, astronomy is independent of astrology. I am in no way an astrologist; I am simply an astronomer.

Here is a video that explains aurora borealis in English (click the play button to see the video)! (this is one of the discoveries I made)

          Due to an illness, Gottfried passed away in 1710 while we in Berlin. I fought to continue his legacy through his work; however, I was unable to do so. This is a lengthy story; thus, I will explain it in a later post (when I have more time to describe it in detail). After Gottfried’s death, there was little opportunity for me to conduct extensive research. Hence, what I have described to you was truly the prime of the life as an astronomer. Despite my trials and tribulations subsequent to Gottfried death, I remind myself of the fact that I have four kids who all made Gottfried and I very proud, as they all followed their vocations as astronomers; I realize that they have the potential to continue our legacy.

Rest in Peace, dear Gottfried.

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