The women with life-long love affairs with space

We should be thankful we live in an age that appreciates the wisdom of interconnected; the kind of thinking that appreciates the largeness of life and the interconnectedness of things. Astronomers write poems, musicians are inspired by maths, and artists reinterpret physics. The sciences and the arts are merging into one, returning to its essence—nature that is hoped to be studied and experienced.

Below are three ladies of the space science who we are currently sharing the world with and who courageously put science as seen from the lens of compassion, not as a tool for relentless ambitions.


She is a novelist and an astrophysicist who studies black holes. As a philosophy graduate, Janna immerses herself among questions of whether the universe is finite and infinite, and this ponderations, just like the force of gravity, pull and hold her all of her musings altogether, from the sciences to her love life.

In 2011, she performs her real-life story of how she met her unlikely husband, Warren Malone, (she is a mathematician, he is a musician. She is getting her Ph.D., he is not formally educated. She was invited to formal dinners, he was working as a dishwasher next door), and wrap it with scientific anecdotes that uncovered the resemblance between rare chances in nature and falling in love.

Around the same year, Janna spoke at TED, sharing her research on the drumming sounds that black holes make, just few years before the blip of gravitational waves discovered by LIGO forever change how we do astronomy and mark the beginning of a new sonic space exploration era. Even more astonishing, her latest book, Black Hole Blues (2016) extrapolates on her own sonic exploration as gravitational scientists before LIGO made its landmark discovery. Currently a professor of physics and astronomy at Columbia University and owns a studio space called Pioneer Works where she works together with artists and musicians in New York, Janna continues to push the boundaries between arts and sciences.


Natalie helps discover the first rocky planet outside our solar system shortly after the Kepler Telescope, the recording devise specializes for searching exoplanets, was set up. It is a monumental discovery: to be able to see so distinctly the movement of these earth-sized exoplanets orbiting their stars by the slight diminution changes in light, which gave her—and ultimately us—a great hope that we will discover more earth-sized planets that might harbor life.

Before the 1950s, pre-Kuiper’s extraordinary claim that there are worlds bound to every single stars, most scientists believe that exoplanets are exceedingly rare. But it wasn’t until Kepler mission was launched in 2009 that Natalie and her team began to measure lights and hunting earth-sized planets.

Graduating as a student in business and lamenting the mental works of mathematics, Natalie and her team look deep into a tiny slice of the sky, perhaps the size of your palm, and record changes in lights of 150,000 stars every 30 minutes. When a planet passes between the Kepler telescope and the star (called transit), Kepler telescope will perceive a dimming in light which indicates an earth-sized planet that exists in the Goldilock zone (not too cold, not too hot). Living to unravel the universe, exhibiting what Johannes Kepler said that “the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich precisely in order that the human mind shall bever be lacking in fresh nourishment”, Natalie reminds us that we are the universe becoming aware. Natalie also writes poignant reflections about her observations and her works on Facebook. Take a look.


Annie Druyan is firstly, a storyteller. Together with Carl Sagan, her husband-’till-death-do-them-part, she collects and curates the content for The Golden Record, a stellar time capsule that is now still sailing to the open-ended sea of the universe. In xxxx, Annie later wrote the original TV Series Cosmos with Carl Sagan and Steven Soter, and a feature film Contact, which is based on Sagan’s space travel novel. And despite all that, she is not a working scientist.

Like Natalie, she grew up lamenting the sciences, only seeing roadblocks that subjugate the mesmerizing nature of math and the sciences. Feeling uninspired, she left to study arts and music. But it is this combinatory creativity that gives whatever science concepts she touches, an elusive character that captivates audience’s hearts. Which is why, Annie was appointed as the Creative Director for The Golden Record. And which is why, Carl fell madly in love with her. Annie’s brainwaves while being in love was also recorded and included in The Golden Record, sailing in the interstellar sea.

With such compassion towards the world and the sciences, together with Carl, she transforms scientific language into a poetic prose all of us can understand, breaking the barriers of any formal disciplines. And just like The Golden Record, her science and poetry projects aren’t just a way for her to phantom the mystery of the universe, but at its heart, they are gifts to the humankind.

P.S. I write children’s story for adults about the moon. See it here. Or email me to purchase.

Janna Levin. Photo by Beatrice de Gea for Quanta Magazine. As seen on Wired

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