Whilst I have no great desire to see the Cold War make a grand return to our everyday viewing, one thing that worked out for the positive during those long years was the whole Space Race thing. It wasn’t entirely awesome, being born out of nuclear missile competition and all that, but the Communism vs. Capitalism scrap to explore space led to mankind going to the freakin’ moon. That is pretty awesome.
We tend to view this through the usual ‘United States vs. Soviet Union’ lens, but these two were not the only states to spend countless hours staring at the sky in the hope of salvation (or at least an asteroid passing by). Many other countries had astronomical ambitions (literally), and Czechoslovakia was one country that would have no objection being placed in this ‘many other countries’ bracket. If I asked you to name a Czech or Slovak astronomer the chances are you would hilariously make a name up, we’d both chuckle and then forget the subject altogether, but here’s one for you; Ľudmila Pajdušáková. I didn’t say it would be an easy one.
Ľudmila was born in the town of Radošovce (Slovakia) on June 29th 1916, and if you can point that out on a map you are a better map-pointerer than I am. For the sake of argument, it isn’t too far from Trnava (home of Spartak) in western Slovakia. After jumping through the usual hoops growing Ľudmila became a teaching assistant, before impressive enough folk to become a teacher. She worked in this position for eight whole years before giving it all up in 1944, in order to start work at the Skalnaté pleso Observatory. If you do a quick google image search for the observatory you’ll get a good idea why, that place is beautiful.
Pajdušáková would work here for the rest of her life, working as director (only the third) between 1958 and 1979. The discoveries that made her famous (at least in astronomical circles) came earlier however, as between 1946 and 1953 Ľudmila managed to discover a grand total of five comets, which at the time put her second overall in the list of ‘Most Comets Discovered By Females’. Ľudmila currently sits in fifth on this in 2016, and due to the whole ‘being dead’ thing she’s unlikely to move up.
To say astronomy was a male-dominated profession in Czechoslovakia during this time would be a massive understatement. Ľudmila was ostensibly the first female astronomer in the country, and one of the first female astronomers to make an international name for themselves full stop. She worked tirelessly to improve the scope of astronomy in Czechoslovakia, returning to her teaching roots on a number of occasions to encourage young folk to look to the skies at night. Whether telescope sales increased or not I can’t be sure, so let’s just say they did.
As well as discovering comets, Ľudmila spent copious hours studying the sun’s cornea and observing minor planets, because why not. She became a member of the International Astronomical Union in 1967, and in 1979 Ľudmila passed away in the Tatras town of Vysoké Tatry (ltierally ‘High Tatras’). Despite her work and inspiring position as ‘the first god-damn female Slovak astronomer’, Ľudmila still struggles for recognition today. A biopic of her life was released earlier this year, but you’ve gotta go through a few google page searches before you find it. To those who remember her, she is remembered as an outstanding scientist and an unsung hero of her time, blazing a trail for female astronomers throughout the region.
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