Gender gap on the Moon: how many craters bear a woman’s name?

Only 2% of the lunar craters have the name of scientist: the artist and researcher Bettina Forget has highlighted the problem in a very original way.

In your opinion, how many lunar craters, of the 1,578 that have a personal name, are named after a female scientist? The answer is double-digit, and much lower than what you have probably estimated: just 33 and even recently (it was 32 up to February 2021). Bettina Forget , artist and researcher at Concordia University in Montreal (Canada), amateur astronomer and director of the Artist Residency Program of the SETI Institute , noticed this while trying to draw them. “I wasn’t expecting 50 percent, I’m not that optimistic,” he told The New York Times . “But 2%? I was stunned ».

AN OBVIOUS DISPROPORTION. By convention, the lunar craters that have been named by the International Astronomical Union celebrate astronomers, mathematicians, engineers, astronauts and explorers. Bettina Forget has been drawing lunar craters for years, detailing reliefs and contours with graphite and black acrylic paint. Many of his subjects have names of undoubted fame, Newton, Copernicus, Einstein, but it is when we move on to the lesser known surnames that the doubt arises: was that scientist a man or a woman? Going through the list of names of the lunar craters, Forget thought of highlighting those with female names: he could only do 32 lines (the 33rd was assigned later).

A VOID TO FILL. In 2016, Forget designed them all, in the Women with Impact project (“women of impact”: you can see 6 of the craters drawn in the photo above). Those on the visible face of the Moon (such as the Cannon and Mitchell craters, named after two 19th and 20th century astronomers) observe them directly with a telescope, for those on the hidden side there are images of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter as a model. The project effectively sheds light on how underrepresented women are in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the skills known by the acronym STEM. Nothing better than a crater, synonymous with emptiness, to represent this absence.


LEAVE THE MARK. But the artist went even further, moving from two to three dimensions. In 2019 he began 3D printing each designed crater to create an “upside down” version, in relief – a kind of stamp that can leave an imprint. “I liked the idea to hold a lunar crater,” he said Forget, who is now experimenting with different ways to put these molds under the soles of shoes in a project called One Small Step , a small step . Bettina Forget is inviting female scientists working in the fields of astrobiology and exoplanetary sciences to create their “baby steps”Imprint of a lunar crater reproduced in the sand: the “One Small Step” project by Bettina Forget. © Bettina Forget

33, 34, 35 … Since lunar craters are typically named after people no longer alive, the gender gap observed on the Moon refers to a historical lack, to centuries when it was very difficult for a woman to undertake a scientific career and see their successes recognized. But the situation is improving, and it can continue to do so also through art. The 33rd crater with a female name “baptized” in February bears in the name of Annie Easley , African American computer science, mathematics and astrophysicist from NASA who died in 2011. And in 2015 the names Pierazzo and Tharp were proposed for two other craters, in honor of Elizabeth Pierazzo and Marie Tharp, respectively an astrobiologist and an oceanographer.

by Abdullah Sam
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