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The Kid Should See This

Hisako Koyama, the woman who stared at the sun

“During World War II,” Rashmi Shivni writes for PBS NewsHour, “Tokyo often held drills to prepare citizens for airstrikes. But when the sirens blared and blackouts hit the city, a young Hisako Koyama would sneak back outside with her futon in one hand and a star chart in the other. Those pitch-black nights were perfect for stargazing.”

These moments started her lifelong passion for the glimmering sky, and our very own star. Koyama would later spend her entire career inspecting blemishes on the glowing sun. In her observatory, she quietly sketched those sunspots and ultimately produced one of the most influential solar observation collections in the last 400 years.

Hisako Koyama
mapping sunspots
In fact, her diligent and precise drawings and logbooks—including more than 10,000 hand-drawn sunspot observations made for decades on her refracting telescope from the same location on our planet—would become some of “the most important records of solar activity in human history.”

Alex Gendler introduce Hisako Koyama’s solar-observing career, from 1945 to 1996, and her legacy in astronomy with TED-Ed‘s The Woman Who Stared at the Sun, directed by Martina Meštrović.

mapping sunspots
More from Ms. Hisako Koyama: From Amateur Astronomer to Long-Term Solar Observer:

“Observational skills, persistence, consistency, and a keen eye for solar behavior have earned her a place in history. How fortunate we are that Ms. Koyama’s colleagues pushed her to publish her data…

“Although we know very little of her young personal life other than she was relatively well educated and had a father who supported her desire to view the skies by providing a telescope, we can see from snippets in Japanese amateur astronomy articles that she had a passion for observing, as revealed in her 1981 article: “I simply can’t stop observing when thinking that one can never know when the nature will show us something unusual.” It seems that she needed only to get an encouraging message from a professional astronomer to launch a career marked by a passion for observing and devotion to creating a long, consistent record for others to use.

“How many young ‘Ms. Koyamas’ might there be in today’s world, just on the verge of scientific contribution and discovery, if only for a nudge of encouragement in the right direction?”

Hisako Koyama's legacy
Next, watch A Decade of Sun: Ten years of SDO highlights and The sun, our closest star, in a stunning 4K time-lapse animation.

Plus, more videos about women in STEM history:
Mary Anning, the greatest fossilist the world ever knew
Marie Tharp: Uncovering the Secrets of the Ocean Floor
Hidden Stories: Dorothy Vaughan
The Living Fossil Fish – Animated Life
• A Jane Goodall documentary made from 100+ hours of lost 1960s footage

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