Warsop woman Madeline Cox lands star role at the Society for the History of Astronomy

Madeline Cox of Warsop has now become Chairman of the National Society for the History of Astronomy
Madeline Cox of Warsop has now become Chairman of the National Society for the History of Astronomy

A WARSOP woman whose interest in stargazing was sparked when she first set eyes on a comet has landed the top job at the Society for the History of Astronomy.

Madeline Cox (63) was just a schoolgirl when she woke up before dawn to see a sungrazing comet streaking through the sky in 1965.

The sight of the ‘fabulous’ comet stayed with Madeline, and almost half a century later she has been installed as chairman of the national society which aims to research and record the history of astronomy.

“I think everyone is interested in astronomy to some extent,” she said. “It is the thought of ‘what is out there?’ and ‘are we alone?’”

For Madeline this interest has expanded into the history of astronomy, and her expertise includes the study of astronomers through history and campaigns to save old observatories.

Madeline first rekindled her teenage interest in astronomy when she joined the Bassetlaw Astronomical Society.

She then helped set up the Society for the History of Astronomy 10 years ago, has been its head librarian for many years and became chairman in October.

“It is quite daunting because I never expected to be asked to become chairman,” Madeline said. “I was taken aback at first but thought I would go for it.”

Madeline says membership of the organisation and also being a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society has ‘opened many doors’ for her to pursue her interest.

She was invited to the home of world-famous astronomer Sir Patrick Moore to celebrate his 80th birthday and 50 years of the Sky at Night.

And Madeline also had chance to examine first editions of work by the likes of Newton and Galileo at Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer residence.

“There were some wonderful, breathtaking old instruments and these famous first editions of work by the greats,” she said.

“We also got to see an old observatory in part of the Vatican. We went up secret stair cases like we were in the Da Vinci Code.”

Madeline admits she would have loved to have been a professional astronomer, but says she was not scientific enough at school and studied languages at university.

But she has written widely on the history of astronomy for the society’s own journal, including pieces on women in astronomy and the history of astronomy in Nottinghamshire.

Madeline says the area has produced some noted astronomers, including Eakring-born John Michell, who although best known for his study of earthquakes, also became the first scientist to suggest the idea of black holes in space in 1784 - 200 years before their existence was confirmed.

There is also frame stocking knitter Joseph Whitehead (1784-1811), from Sutton, who despite only three weeks of schooling in his entire life became an expert in astronomy.

He was a specialist at predicting and dating eclipses, and at the age of just 21 managed to construct a magnificent orrery, a clockwork model of a planetary system, complete with his own tools and engravings.

Madeline is keen to find out more about local astronomers in history. If you can help email chair@shastro.org.uk