Fiammetta Wilson

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Fiammetta Wilson (19 July 1864 – 21 July 1920) was a British astronomer elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1916.[1][2][3][4][5]

Portrait of Fiammetta Wilson from the Lafayette studio

Early life and education[edit]

Wilson was born on 19 July 1864 to Helen (1839–1922) and Francis Samuel Worthington (1837–1912) in Lowestoft. Her father was a physician and a surgeon with a strong interest in the natural sciences. After he retired he spent time doing microscopical studies, and encouraged Fiammetta to study her natural surroundings. She was educated by governesses and went to schools in Germany and Switzerland. She was trained as a musician in Italy and was a teacher and orchestra conductor at the Guildhall School of Music, where she excelled in conducting string orchestras and often wrote some music herself. After attending lectures by astrophysicist Alfred Fowler in 1910, she became interested in astronomy. She became so infatuated with astronomy that she gave up most of her music as well as her social life.[1][2]


Throughout her entire career, Wilson was incredibly hardworking and would even look at a cloudy sky for up to six hours at a time just to catch a glimpse of a meteor. Wilson joined the British Astronomical Association in 1910 and with A. Grace Cook became an acting director of its Meteor Section. As a member, she observed and published data on auroras, the zodiacal light, comets, and meteors. To further her research and to make sure her information was accurate, she built a wooden platform in her garden so she could observe space without the obstruction of trees. Wilson faced copious hardships during her observations; she was threatened with arrest by a constable during World War I because he saw her using a flashlight for her research and thought that she was a German agent. She would also continue her observations even when zeppelins would drop bombs on her neighborhood.[6]

Between the years 1910 and 1920, Wilson observed about 10,000 meteors and accurately calculated the paths of 650 of them. In 1913, she made an independent recovery of Westphal's Comet while it was passing the Earth. After publishing many papers, she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society on 14 January 1916. She also became a member of both the Société astronomique de France and the Société d'astronomie d'Anvers. In July 1920 she was appointed to the E.C. Pickering Fellowship, a one-year research position at Harvard College, but died the same month without knowing she had been appointed.[1][2][6]

Personal life[edit]

Wilson enjoyed dancing and studying foreign languages such as Italian, French, and German. She loved animals, always kept a dog by her side, and was a very talented horsewoman. Wilson was also an avid traveler and visited Canada and the United States after spending a year in Italy. Before she became interested in astronomy, she wrote numerous short stories that appeared in magazines.[2]

Important Publications[edit]

  • Wilson, Fiammetta (November 1916). "Clusters and Nebulae visible with Small Optical Means". Journal of the British Astronomical Association. 27 (72).[7]
  • Wilson, Fiammetta (January 1918). "The Meteoric Shower of January". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 78: 198–199. Bibcode:1918MNRAS..78..198D. doi:10.1093/mnras/78.3.198.

Further reading[edit]

  • ’Fiammetta Wilson: Mandolins and meteors’, The Antiquarian Astronomer, Issue 13, p 23-30.


  1. ^ a b c Ogilvie, Marilyn; Harvey, Joy (2000). The biographical dictionary of women in science : pioneering lives from ancient times to the mid-20th century. New York: Routledge. ISBN 041592040X.
  2. ^ a b c d "Obituary Notices: Fellows:- Mrs. Fiammetta Wilson". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 81 (4): 266. February 1921. doi:10.1093/mnras/81.4.266a. Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  3. ^ "Mrs. Fiammetta Wilson". Journal of the British Astronomical Association. London: British Astronomical Association. 30 (10): 330–331. 1920. Bibcode:1920JBAA...30..330. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  4. ^ Cook, A. Grace (1920). "Obituary.---Mrs. Fiammetta Wilson". The Observatory. 43 (556): 334–335. Bibcode:1920Obs....43..330. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  5. ^ Larsen, Kristine (December 2006). "Shooting Stars: The Women Directors of the Meteor Section of the British Astronomical Association". The Antiquarian Astronomer. Society for the History of Astronomy. 3: 75–82. Bibcode:2006AntAs...3...75L.
  6. ^ a b Briggs, Helen (15 February 2016). "Watching the heavens: The female pioneers of science". BBC News. Retrieved 6 July 2017.
  7. ^ Wilson, Fiammetta (1916). "Clusters and Nebulae Visible with Small Optical Means"". Journal of the British Astronomical Association. British Astronomical Association. 27 (2): 72–83. Bibcode:1916JBAA...27...72.

External links[edit]