Italian Astrophysicist Margherita Hack Passes Away
July 1, 2013

Margherita Hack, Famed Italian Astrophysicist, Dies At 91

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Italian astrophysicist Margherita Hack, who gained fame as a science writer able to explain her research in easy-to-understand language and also the first woman to lead an astronomical observatory in her country, has died.

According to Frances D'Emilio of the Associated Press (AP), Hack passed away Saturday in Trieste, the town where she headed up the observatory from 1964 through 1987, after reportedly being treated for heart problems. She was 91.

"Known as the 'lady of the stars', Hack's research contributed to the spectral classification of many groups of stars, and the asteroid 8558 Hack is named after her," said Reuters reporter Naomi O'Leary. "She introduced astrophysics to a broad Italian audience, from university textbooks to colorful tomes of astronomy for children, and was one of Italy's most visible scientists over her career."

In addition to her contributions to the field of astronomy, Hack was often asked to comment on physics-related discoveries by the media, and was an atheist who decried the influence of the Catholic Church on Italian politicians.

Hack, who was born on June 12, 1922, was a vegetarian, a champion for gay rights and animal protection, and a lobbyist for the legalization of abortion and euthanasia. She initially enrolled at the University of Florence as a student of literature, but quickly changed her major to physics. She graduated in 1945 and less than a decade later, she began working as an astronomer at Florence's astronomical observatory.

Italy's foreign minister, Emma Bonino, told the AP she was "an extraordinary figure. With her vanishes not only a great scientist but a free spirit, deeply intellectually honest."

Likewise, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano called Hack a "high-level personality in the world of scientific culture," as well as a person who "represented a strong example of civil passion, leaving a noble fingerprint in public debate and in the dialogue with citizens."