Today, Google Doodle is honoring astronomer Guillermo Haro and his 105th birthday. He was born on March 21, 1913 and died on April 26, 1988, after a long and successful career in astronomy. He married a famous journalist and made numerous discoveries in science that led to a galaxy and an observatory being named after him. Here is what you need to know about Guillermo Haro, including a documentary produced by his son that you can watch at the end of this story.
1. Guillermo Haro Barraza Started Out Studying Philosophy Before He Discovered Astronomy
Haro was born in Mexico in 1913 to Haro and Leonor Barraza. He grew up during the Mexican revolution. Interestingly, he didn’t get his education in astronomy, he actually studied philosophy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and intended to have a law career. In 1943, he was hired as an assistant to Luis Enrique Erro at the Observatorio Astrofiscio de Tonantzintla. This is where his love of astronomy began. He worked at the Harvard College Observatory from 1943 to 1944 and returned to Mexico in 1945. In 1947, he began working for the Observatorio de Tacubaya of the UNAM.
2. He Made Numerous Contributions & Discoveries in Astronomy
Haro made numerous scientific contributions, including discovering the Herbig-Haro objects. These are small, bright nebula that form near regions where stars recently formed. They are created when fast-moving jets of material from new stars collide with a type of interstellar medium. This creates shock waves that ionize gas. An emission line of electrons and ions forms as the gas cools, creating the Herbig-Haro objects. These were discovered simultaneously and independently by George Herbig.
Haro also discovered flare stars in the Orion constellation, and in stellar aggregates of different ages. Haro also listed 8,746 blue stars in the direction of the north galactic pole, 50 of which turned out to be quasars (which actually had not been discovered yet.) In 1956 he listed 44 blue galaxies, and discovered T Tauri stars, a supernova, more than 10 novae, and a comet.
Because of his discoveries, Haro was the first Mexican (and the first person from a developing country) elected to the Royal Astronomical Society. He received this honor in 1959.
3. A Galaxy & an Observatory Are Named After Him
Haro first included the galaxy Haro 11 in a study he published in 1956 that listed blue galaxies. It’s a small starbust galaxy that has “super star clusters” within it. It’s one of only nine galaxies in the local universe known to emit Lyman Continuum photons.
The Guillermo Haro Observatory in Sonora is named after Haro. It’s owned and operated by the National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics, and Electronics. The telescope began operating in 1992. Its purposes including making atmospheric extinction measurements and monitoring light pollution.
4. His Second Wife, Elena Poniatowska, Is an Award-Winning Writer Who Covers Social and Human Rights Issues
Haro’s first wife as Gladys Learn Rojas. Haro’s second wife, Elena Poniatowska, is a journalist and writer who has published journalism essays, non-fiction books, and novels. They met in 1959 when she interviewed him for a story, were married in 1968, and divorced in 1981. She liked to say that he treated her badly when she interviewed him, and she got her revenge by marrying him. She said he was very showy in interviews and liked to give people a hard time, asking them the same questions over and over. She also joked that when she felt an affinity for the movie ET, he wasn’t too sympathetic, since he hated the idea of UFOs.
Elena’s work focused on the disenfranchised, especially women and the poor. Her most famous work is “La noche to Tlatelolco” (Massacre in Mexico), about the 1968 student protests in Mexico City. She was awarded the Miguel de Cervantes Prize in 2013 and, at 85, she still writes today. She once said that her book, “La Piel del Cielo,” had a character based on Haro’s youth and childhood. She said he was an intelligent, funny, and caring man who cried when their son Felipe was born.
Here’s Elena, speaking about her husband in a Spanish-language interview:
Elena also wrote a non-fiction book about her husband called “El universo o nada” (The Universe or Nothing.)
5. His Son Made a Documentary About Him
Elena and Haro had three children: Emmanuel (born in 1955), Felipe (born in 1968), and Paula (born in 1970). Felipe Haro Poniatowski is a filmmaker who made a documentary about his dad that explored Haro’s life and interviewed people who were close to him. The documentary was produced by TV UNAM and Puebla TV. Emmanuel is a professor in the Department of Physics at a university in Mexico.
Here’s the 11-minute documentary about Haro and his life that his son produced:
Eleven minutes not long enough? Watch the 27-minute version of the documentary below: