Thursday, October 27, 2011

Liisi Oterma - birth DAY???

DOES ANYONE know her actual DAY OF BIRTH, please?  (Leave a comment!)   or here


Liisi Oterma, professor emerita in astronomy at university of Turku, is maybe the best known Finnish woman in the area of physical sciences. The talented young woman chose to study exact sciences, as Sanskrit was not taught at the university. She chose a good time to start her studies in first mathematics, then in astronomy. Astronomy had been added to the curriculum in 1924, and the professor of astronomy, Yrjö Väisälä, had just become the head of the new observatory. During the first years of its activity, the staff consisted of professor Väisälä, Liisi Oterma, who had been appointed as observer, and a part time assistant. Yrjö Väisälä (1891-1971), influential in Finnish astronomy in his time, was an energetic and brilliant scientist. His expertise included physics, astronomy, geodesy and optics. He designed and built a planet camera that was put into use in winter 1935. The night sky was photographed with a double point method, so that fixed stars were seen as two overlapping points. Minor planets could be identified on the photographs because they had moved between exposures, so that their images were not overlapping, but visibly separate from each other.

Together with Väisälä, Liisi Oterma participated in the search for minor planets already before finishing her Master's degree in 1938. She was a diligent observer, and during some years the major part of the internationally quite large amount of minor planet observations made at Turku were hers.

Back then, observations were made in rather austere conditions. Turun Sanomat (a local newspaper) published in 1946 a report about a night that its reporter spent shivering in the cold with Yrjö Väisälä and Liisi Oterma. "Time went on, and my hand holding the pen grew number. That was because the observatory tower is not heated. The best part of the year you just have to freeze, at least if you are not used to it being cold. The astronomers are clad like they were planning to take a sleigh ride, in furs and in felt boots."

Besides of more than 200 minor planets, Liisi Oterma discovered three comets. The best known of them, comet Oterma (1942 VII) appeared in a photograph in March 1943. The calculations made by Oterma showed that the furry object was a comet, and that its orbit around the Sun was, surprisingly, circular. Its period was just 8 years. Oterma could determine that the comet's orbit prior to 1937 had been the usual elliptical one with a period of 18 years, until Jupiter's gravitational attraction had disturbed its orbit enough to redirect it to a circular orbit between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Oterma predicted that a similar disturbance would make the comet to resume an elliptical orbit around 1962-63. This prediction, made in 1957, became true.

Liisi Oterma published her dissertation in 1955 not on minor planets, but on telescope optics. It describes methods of optimizing the use of large telescopes. The dissertation received highest marks, and Oterma became doctrix prima at the degree ceremony at Turku university, held the same year. She was also the first female Ph.D. of the faculty of sciences and the very first woman to get a Ph.D. degree in astronomy in Finland. In 1956, the Finnish alliance of business and professional women chose her as their "woman of the year".

Liisi Oterma manufactured, together with Yrjö Väisälä, optics of high standard for several telescopes located both in Finland and abroad, e.g. the primary mirror for the Schmidt telescope at Uppsala. Later, Oterma grew particularly interested in the motion of the Earth's poles. She has, among other things, studied the changes in the properties of quartz rods in variable circumstances. This work is related to Väisälä's research on quartz meter system. Väisälä used to praise Oterma's skill in making these rods and said that she was "a whizz at grinding". Liisi Oterma became a docent of astronomy in 1959 and acting professor of astronomy at university of Turku in 1962. When the professorship was advertised as vacant, her competitors for the vacancy were K. A. Hämeen-Anttila (later professor of astronomy at university of Oulu) and Paul Kustaanheimo (professor of astronomy at university of Helsinki, 1969-77). Oterma was unanimously placed first on the list of candidates and received the professorship in 1965. She retired in 1978. After Yrjö Väisälä's death in 1971, she also served as director of the astronomical-optical research institute at university of Turku until 1975. Despite her undisputable skills as a researcher, she was not as influential as her predecessor.

Liisi Oterma has the reputation of being a reticent and unpretentious person. She featured in an article "Comet Oterma" in the magazine Kansan kuvalehti in 1950, which describes her scientific reputation: "An Italian astronomer, who met Oterma in 1948 at an international astronomical congress in Switzerland, told that he had thought that she would be an old man with a long beard. Oterma is, however, a woman, and rather young at that. She is a paragon of freshness, health and unpretentiousness. Her blonde hair has been braided around her head, her eyes are dark and lustrous, and her smile is quite winning. Oterma is neither serious nor stiff - her smile appears quite easily to light her face. Only when she is asked to talk about herself or when she has to resign herself to being photographed, she becomes impossible."

Professor Anders Reiz from the observatory of Copenhagen who knew about Oterma's interest in languages has said that she "keeps silent in eleven languages". Oterma's proficiency in languages includes German, English, Spanish, Italian, Hungarian, Esperanto and French. She chose to write her dissertation in French. As a person interested in languages, it was natural for her to conclude her inauguration lecture with thoughts about whether there are other sentient beings in the universe with whom humans could exchange messages: " The nearest planet with beings who might be interested in communicating with us would be located within a distance of 300 light years. [...] if our neighbour civilizations have developed e.g. a few hundred years further than us, they have probably sent us messages. We only need to listen."

Eva Isaksson
Astronomical mirror grinding

1 Tuorla observatory staff in the early 1943. Back row: director Y. Väisälä, next to him assistent H. Alikoski, front row computers V. Laiho ja I. Rinne, in their middle observator L. Oterma. Photo: Tuorla Observatory.

2 Yrjö Väisälä and Liisi Oterma sliping a corrective lense for the Kvistaberg observatory in the Tuorla tunnel workshop 1955. Photo: Tuorla Observatory.

Liisi Oterma (Finnish pronunciation: [?li?si ?oterm?]) (1915 – 4 April 2001) was a Finnish astronomer, the first woman to get a Ph.D. degree in astronomy in Finland.

She discovered or co-discovered some comets, including periodic comets 38P/Stephan-Oterma and 39P/Oterma, and quite a number of asteroids. The asteroid 1529 Oterma was named in her honour.

Asteroids Discovered

1504 Lappeenranta     March 23, 1939
1507 Vaasa     September 12, 1939
1522 Kokkola     November 18, 1938
1540 Kevola     November 16, 1938
1544 Vinterhansenia     October 15, 1941
1545 Thernoë     October 15, 1941
1558 Järnefelt     January 20, 1942
1559 Kustaanheimo     January 20, 1942
1679 Nevanlinna     March 18, 1941
1680 Per Brahe     February 12, 1942
1695 Walbeck     October 15, 1941
1705 Tapio     September 26, 1941
1758 Naantali     February 18, 1942
1882 Rauma     October 15, 1941
2064 Thomsen     September 8, 1942
2107 Ilmari     November 12, 1941
2159 Kukkamäki     October 16, 1941
2195 Tengström     September 27, 1941
2268 Szmytowna     November 6, 1942
2291 Kevo     March 19, 1941
2332 Kalm     April 4, 1940
2501 Lohja     April 14, 1942
2640 Hällström     March 18, 1941
2717 Tellervo     November 29, 1940
2774 Tenojoki     October 3, 1942
2803 Vilho     November 29, 1940
2804 Yrjö     April 19, 1941
2805 Kalle     October 15, 1941
2827 Vellamo     February 11, 1942
2828 Iku-Turso     February 18, 1942
2840 Kallavesi     October 15, 1941
2841 Puijo     February 26, 1943
2846 Ylppö     February 12, 1942
2857 NOT     February 17, 1942
2912 Lapalma     February 18, 1942
2946 Muchachos     October 15, 1941
2988 Korhonen     March 1, 1943
3132 Landgraf     November 29, 1940
3381 Mikkola     October 15, 1941
3497 Innanen     April 19, 1941
3597 Kakkuri     October 15, 1941
3811 Karma     October 13, 1953
3892 Dezsö     April 19, 1941
4133 Heureka     February 17, 1942
4163 Saaremaa     April 19, 1941
4227 Kaali     February 17, 1942
(5216) 1941 HA     April 16, 1941
(5534) 1941 UN     October 15, 1941
(5611) 1943 DL     February 26, 1943
(5985) 1942 RJ     September 7, 1942
6886 Grote     February 11, 1942
(7267) 1943 DF     February 23, 1943
(11780) 1942 TB     October 3, 1942
(15198) 1940 GJ     April 5, 1940
Prof. Yrjö Väisälä ja observaattori Liisi Oterma fysiikan laitoksessa Phoenixissa.
Turun yliopiston arkisto

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