The Female Mathematician That Helped Astronomers Discover Pluto

By , in News Sci/Tech on .

Ninety years ago, on the 18th of February, a mathematician named Elizabeth Williams, was the first to theorize the existence of a ninth planet in our solar system. Elizabeth worked for astronomer Percival Lowell (he served as a foreign secretary to the Korean Special Mission, part of the first Korean diplomatic mission, in 1883).

He and his colleague, Clyde Tombaugh, relied on Elizabeth’s calculation to prove the existence of a ninth planet – today, the dwarf planet’s name is Pluto. The calculations that Elizabeth made were very important, almost vital for the mission that eventually will identify Pluto.

The main task was to observe Neptune and Uranus and see if any “anomaly” could be found In their “behavior,” the results came immediately, Neptune and Uranus weren’t in the place that they should have been, and Lowell saw those differences, after he did that, he knew that the solar system’s map was not complete.

Elizabeth Williams – The Female Mathematician That Helped Astronomers Discover Pluto

He knew that this problem required math, a high level of knowledge about math, so he knew he had to bring the best from the best, and he did. Williams and other mathematicians came on the scene, and the show was about to start.

We are not allowed to forget that, before there was any calculator, the mathematician did all the complicated math that astronomers required, by hand. Williams managed to see that a ninth planet was in our solar system from the discrepancies between Neptune and Uranus.

Unfortunately, Williams made only the calculations, and she wasn’t there to see the planet. The reason she got married in 1922 and Lowell’s widow fired her because she didn’t believe that a married woman can work on that project. The couple took two jobs in Jamaica, at a Harvard observatory. Williams has widowed herself in 1935 and moved to New Hampshire, where she died in poverty.