Tuesday, August 03, 2021

"Heartbeat of the pulsar": Adrienne Rich's 1968 poem "Planetarium" and the 1967 discovery of the pulsar by Jocelyn Bell

In "Planetarium", from "A Will to Change" (1971), Adrienne Rich refers to the astronomer Caroline Herschel (1750-1848), discoverer of eight comets. Later in the poem, Rich also refers to a recent discovery: "Heartbeat of the pulsar / heart sweating through my body". The paper announcing the 1967 discovery of pulsars by Jocelyn Bell, an astronomy graduate student, was published in February 1968, and the word "pulsar" first appeared that March in a newspaper article that quotes Bell's adviser and co-author, Antony Hewish, who later won the Nobel Prize for her discovery. Rich's poem, written in 1968, begins with a woman's astronomical discoveries; did she know another woman had also discovered pulsars? (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 August 2021)


Figure two from the 1967 Nature paper on the discovery of "a rapidly pulsating radio source."

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