Meet the  female mathematician whose calculations helped discover Pluto


The mathematician who aided in the discovery of Pluto

Today, astronomer Clyde Tombaugh is being celebrated as the data he collected proves the existence of Pluto. Astronauts have acknowledged that this theoretical analysis would not come to pass if it were not for the mathematician, Elizabeth Williams. William’s back then used to work for astronomer Lowell. She was the first one to hypothesize on the existence of the 9th planet. It is, however, sad that the mathematician had been forgotten and left out of the historical revelation. Instead, astronaut Lowell and his successor Tombaugh were the only recognized legends that spotted elusive Pluto. Following the negligence, both the mathematical calculations and mathematician was unheard of. At no point was William’s efforts appreciated, especially as during such times, there was no advanced digital equipment to aid in the mathematical calculations. The crazy math was calculated manually.

It is vital to note that the first women to establish themselves in astronomy were ranked as mathematicians. People like William have been uncelebrated, ignored, and left to succumb to poverty. Her mathematical calculations contributed to unveiling the mystery behind the existence of the 9th planet. Catherine Clark, a doctoral student in astronomy, expresses her concerns to says that Williams was instead treated unjustly as she deserved to be commended like Lowell and Clyde Tombaugh. She also complemented that Williams was a product of great talent. Williams herself was talented in her work, Clark added. 

“On top of these incredible calculations, advanced math that she was doing, she was also ambidextrous and writing simultaneously with both hands,” she said.

“She would write in cursive with her right hand while printing with her left.”

Clark advocating for Williams

Clark says that the calculations played an essential role in the quest as they promoted the discovery of Pluto. The logic inspiring the investigation was from observations conducted on Uranus and Neptune by Lowell. During his research, he discovered that the orbits of Uranus and Neptune were in the wrong place. He concluded that there was a possibility that the solar system was incomplete. He later passed away though his successor, who relied on the complex mathematical calculation proved his theory.

 Lowell never spotted the Pluto, but Williams calculations paid off when Tombaugh set them to the task. That was in 1930 when astronomer Tombaugh saw something moving within the solar system. Clark expressed enthusiasm as she thought remarkably, the complex manual calculations revealed the planet existed. She was a smart mathematician.

Women should keep up their efforts in astronomy

However, it was so unfortunate that William wasn’t around to witness the discovery of Pluto. This is because after Lowell had died, his widow had fired her. Because she was married, and she thought it inappropriate to use a married woman.

 Clark further states that neglecting William’s work is, but one of the many ways women’s achievements have been ignored in the science world. She urges women to be empowered and keep up the efforts they put in fields such as astronomy.