Expert on dark universe becomes first female Astronomer Royal for Scotland

·2-min read

An investigator of one of science’s great unsolved mysteries has become the first woman to be appointed Astronomer Royal for Scotland.

Catherine Heymans, a world-leading expert on the physics of the so-called dark universe, has been awarded the almost 200-year-old title.

The astrophysicist was recommended to the Queen for the role by an international panel, convened by the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Prof Heymans said: “I don’t think anyone forgets the first time they saw the rings of Saturn through a telescope, but too many people never have the chance.

“As Astronomer Royal for Scotland, I want to change that.

“My hope is that once that spark and connection with the universe is made, children will carry that excitement home with them and develop a life-long passion for astronomy or, even better, science as a whole.

“I am absolutely delighted to be named Astronomer Royal for Scotland and as an advocate for equality and diversity, it is also a great honour to be the first woman appointed to the role.

“I will enthusiastically use this high-profile platform to advance amateur and professional astronomy within Scotland and to promote Scotland internationally as a world-leading centre for science.”

Prof Heymans is professor of astrophysics at the University of Edinburgh and director of the German Centre for Cosmological Lensing at Ruhr-University Bochum.

Her research seeks to shed light on the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter – entities that together account for more than 95% of the universe.

Created in 1834, the position of Astronomer Royal for Scotland was originally held by the director of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh.

Since 1995 it has been awarded as an honorary title.

The previous holder, John Brown, died in 2019.

As the 11th Astronomer Royal, Prof Heymans’s main focus will be on sharing her passion for astronomy with Scots from all walks of life.

One of her first targets is to install telescopes at all of Scotland’s remote outdoor learning centres, which are visited by most of the country’s school pupils.