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Ileana Chinnici Receives 2021 Osterbrock Book Prize for Biography of Angelo Secchi

by Patrick Seitzer and Rick Fienberg

The Historical Astronomy Division (HAD) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) is pleased to present the 2021 Donald E. Osterbrock Book Prize for Historical Astronomy to Ileana Chinnici for her work Decoding the Stars: A Biography of Angelo Secchi, Jesuit and Scientist (Brill 2019).

This is the first full-length biography of Italian astronomer Angelo Secchi (1818-1878) in English and will become the definitive work on this important figure in the history of astrophysics. Secchi became well known as part of the transition from classical positional astronomy to astrophysics. He was a pioneer of spectroscopy and its application to stellar classification and solar physics. At the 25th anniversary of Secchi’s death, George Ellery Hale praised his contributions “to the present widespread interest in Astro-physical research.” Chinnici’s book covers not only the research that Secchi is remembered for, but also the broader environment in which he worked. Based on extensive research in Italian and Vatican archives, it is richly illustrated with many color and black-and-white photographs.

Ileana Chinnici received a university degree in physics from the University of Palermo, Italy. Her dissertation was Pietro Tacchini (1838-1905): A First Scientific Biography, about another Italian astronomer who, like Secchi before him, served as director of the Osservatorio al Collegio Romano. Since 2004 she has been a research astronomer at the INAF/Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo, in charge of museum activities and specializing in the history of astrophysics.

The Donald E. Osterbrock Book Prize is given in odd-numbered years. Books copyrighted in the two to five years before the award year are eligible. HAD originated the prize in 2009 and named it in memory of Don Osterbrock in 2010. Osterbrock was a longtime HAD member, a contributor to nearly every HAD meeting, HAD Chair from 1987 to 1989, and the recipient of HAD’s highest honor, the LeRoy E. Doggett Prize for Historical Astronomy, in 2002.

The 2021 Osterbrock Book Prize will be presented to Dr. Chinnici at the virtual HAD Town Hall starting at 1:40 pm Eastern time on 11 January 2021, when she will give a presentation about her book. The HAD Town Hall will be held in conjunction with the virtual 237th AAS meeting, 11-15 January 2021.