Blagg, Mary Adela (1858–1944)

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Blagg, Mary Adela (1858–1944)

British astronomer. Born in Cheadle, North Staffordshire, England, in 1858; died in Cheadle in 1944: daughter of Charles Blagg (a lawyer); educated at private boarding school, London.

Mary Adela Blagg was an entirely self-taught astronomer. After a private-school education and a variety of community activities, including the care of Belgian children during World War I, Blagg was led by an innate curiosity to take up the study of mathematics. Borrowing her brother's school books, she learned all she could about the subject, becoming competent enough to understand basic astronomy.

Following her attendance at a lecture by astronomer J.A. Hardcastle, Blagg decided to pursue independent astronomical studies. With Hardcastle's encouragement, she became involved in the process of standardizing lunar nomenclature, which first necessitated clarifying some of the inconsistencies in the use of names to describe lunar formations. As part of a committee formed in 1907, Blagg was appointed to collate the names given to lunar formations on existing maps of the moon. After her preliminary list was published in 1913 (Collected List of Lunar Formations Named or Lettered in the Maps of Nelson, Schmidt, and Madler), she was appointed to the Lunar Commission of the newly founded International Astronomical Union. She then served on the subcommittee that prepared the definitive list of lunar names that subsequently became the standard authority (Named Lunar Formations).

At the same time, Blagg became involved in the study of variable stars with astronomer H.H. Turner. On a volunteer basis, she helped analyze raw data from a manuscript of Joseph Baxendell's original observations. The resulting series of 10 papers appeared in the Monthly Record (1912–1918). Credited with nearly all of the editing of the work, Blagg was cited by Turner for the "patience and care" with which she undertook her efforts.

Although Blagg had amateur status and functioned mainly under the direction of others, she utilized unusual skill and imagination in approaching the tedious problems of her work. Her contribution to astronomy was recognized in 1915, when she was elected to the Royal Astronomical Society. Upon her death in 1944, the Lunar Committee named a small lunar crater in her honor.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts