Google doodle on Saturday celebrated the life of Italian professor, activist, author, and astrophysicist Margherita Hack on her 99th birth anniversary. Hack, who earned the moniker of “The Lady of the Stars”, was born in Florence on this day in 1922.
Hack championed civil rights as an outspoken advocate for progressive causes, animal protection, and equality for all. Her interest in satellites, asteroids, and the evolution of stellar atmospheres was extraordinary.
She took just one university class in literature before switching her major to physics. Following the 1945 defense of her thesis on Cepheid variables (stars used to measure intergalactic distances), Hack applied her knowledge of stellar spectroscopy as an astronomer at Florence’s Astronomical Observatory of Arcetri.
In 1964, Hack moved to Trieste, where she made history not just as the first Italian woman to earn a full professorship at the city’s university but also as the first female director of the Trieste Astronomical Observatory. For over 20 years, she transformed Trieste’s Observatory from a largely anonymous institution to a globally renowned nexus of scientific progress. These distinguished innovations garnered Hack international recognition in the astronomical community, which led to prestigious memberships at NASA and the European Space Agency—both home to the world’s foremost scientific observatories.
Acclaimed for her ability to explain complex scientific concepts to the general public, Hack published dozens of academic papers, several astronomy books, and founded two astronomical magazines. She received a litany of accolades for her lifetime achievements, notably having asteroid 8558 Hack, which orbits between Mars and Jupiter, named in her honor in 1995. At 90 years young, the Italian government conferred Hack with its highest award: the title of Dama di Gran Croce.