March 21, 2018 would have been Mexican astronomer Guillermo Haro’s 105th birthday. Though Haro’s is not a household name, his contributions to astronomy make him a worthwhile individual to get to know. Born in Mexico City in 1913, he was subject to grow up during the Mexican Revolution, but that did nothing to quell his future love for discovery and the universe beyond. Nor did his initial interest in law, which disipated in favor of his more philosophical studies.
Before his passing on April 26, 1988, Dr. Haro led a life that revolved around science and philosophy, starting with his studies in philosophy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He later turned his attention to the stars in 1943 after being hired as an assistant at the Observatorio Astrofisico de Tonantzintla (Astronomical Observatory of Tonantintla).
Contributions to Astronomy
The Mexican astronomer, dubbed the “priest of the telescope” by Alfonso Reyes, was a vital part of 20th century astronomy. Of his many contributions, Haro was responsible for discovering 8,746 different blue stars toward the north galactic pole and flare stars within the Orion nebula region.
Haro was also credited with discovering the Haro-Chavira comet with Enrique Chavira and the Herbig-Haro object with George H. Herbig. Herbig-Haro objects are formed as bright spots of emission when high-velocity material interacts with materials surrounding it. The product is an ionized gas that projects as a vibrant green and blue emission.
The Royal Astronomical Society and the Haro Observatory
The Royal Astronomical Society, which was founded in 1820, provides support for astronomical studies and research. In 1959, Guillermo Haro became the first person from a developing country to be elected into the elite society of astronomers.
One year before his death, Haro had an observatory named after him by the National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics. Planning for the observatory began in 1972, but the dedication in Haro’s name did not come until 1987. The primary use since beginning operations in 1992 is to measure atmospheric extinction and monitor pollution caused by light.
Haro was part of a power couple with wife Helene Elizabeth Louise Amelie Paula Dolores Poniatowska, known professionally as Elena Poniatowska. Haro met Elena while working at the Tonantzintla Observatory after World War II. The French-born Poniatowska was a well known Mexican journalist and author who worked with a focus on social and political issues. Elena started writing in 1953 at 21-years-old after publishing with the Excelsior newspaper.
Many of her most influential works were “testimonial narratives” that were told through historical facts and accounts by real people affected by the subject. As her career grew more prolific, Elena co-founded La Jornada, the feminist magazine Fem, the Siglo XXI publishing house, and Cineteca Nacional, a national film institute.
Elena is an award-winning author and became the first woman to win the National Journalism Prize in Mexico. She also received awards from Colombia and Chile, the International Women’s Media Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, and Spain’s Premio Cervantes Literature Award.