She was born 125 years ago today in Wilmington, Delaware and studied astronomy at UC Berkeley.
During observations for her doctoral thesis, she discovered that the element sodium is found in the gas clouds between stars.
She found many other absorption lines in the spectra of celestial objects – the diffuse interstellar bands that appear to be due to more complex molecules.
After marrying her colleague Donald Shane, Mary Lea Shane gave up her career as an astronomer to raise their two children. After her husband became director of the Lick Observatory, she was a popular hostess, meeting scientists from around the world at the remote Mount Hamilton Astronomer Colony south of San Francisco.
When a historian requested material for a biography of an astronomer, Mary Lea Shane had the idea of creating a scientific archive from the observatory’s horrifying mishmash of letters, records and photographs.
Lick’s archives contain countless documents on the history of astronomy in the United States and Europe.
Mary Lea Shane, one of the great but almost forgotten astronomers, died in 1983 – on her 86th birthday.
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