Margherita Hack: Astrophysicist and activist who fought for left-wing causes in Italy

 

Margherita Hack, who died on 29 June at the age of 91, was an astrophysicist who explained her research in plain language for the public and who championed civil rights in her native Italy. She died in Trieste, where she had headed an astronomical observatory.

Hack headed the observatory in Trieste, the first woman to hold that post, from 1964 to 1987, and was a popular and frequent commentator in Italian media about discoveries in astronomy and physics. The current director of the observatory, Stefano Borgani, said she was one of the first astronomers to "have the intuition" that the future of astronomical observation lay in using space satellites.

An atheist who decried Vatican influence on politics, Hack helped fight a successful battle to legalise abortion in Italy, unsuccessfully lobbied for the right to euthanasia and championed gay rights. Among her victories was a campaign against construction of nuclear reactors in Italy. A vegetarian since childhood, she was also an advocate for animal protection and lived with eight cats and a dog.

Hack, an optimist with a cheerful disposition, studied the heavens in the firm belief that there is no afterlife. "I have no fear of death," she said in a television interview. "When there is death, I won't be here."

She liked to joke that the "first and last" time she was in a church was for her marriage to her fellow native Florentine Aldo De Rosa in 1944. She agreed to a church ceremony only because the groom's parents were very religious. Hack dressed simply in life, including her own wedding, when she wore an overcoat turned inside out for a bridal gown. She and her widower, 93, had no children.

Hack enrolled at the University of Florence as a student of literature, but after one class, switched to physics. By the early 1950s she was an astronomer at the Tuscan city's astronomical observatory. She was also an athlete, excelling in track. Specialising in the long jump and high jump from 1939 to 1943, winning national university championships and doing well in national championships.

She was active in left-wing politics, including most recently supporting the governor of southern Puglia, Nichi Vendola, one of Italy's few openly gay politicians.

`'With Margherita Hack's passing, we lose an authoritative voice in favor of civil rights and equality," said Fabrizio Marrazzo, a spokesman for a the gay advocacy group, Gay Centre. "More than once, Hack came out in favour of gay rights, civil unions and the dignity of gay families."

Italy's foreign minister, Emma Bonino, who as a leader of the tiny Radical Party helped fight battles to legalise divorce and abortion, said Hack was "an extraordinary figure. With her vanishes not only a great scientist but a free spirit, deeply intellectually honest."

President Giorgio Napolitano's condolence message hailed her as a "high-level personality in the world of scientific culture. At the same time, she represented a strong example of civic passion, leaving a noble fingerprint in public debate."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Maintenance Person

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent