September 6, 2011

Looking Up: Donna Hummell, M.D., is a Skilled Amateur Astronomer

There is a list, famous among astronomers, of 110 faint objects in the night sky, first cataloged by French astronomer Charles Messier in the 18th century. A “Messier marathon” is when astronomers begin at dusk and work until dawn, hoping to locate every single one, searching amid the field of stars for each elusive light source, be it a distant galaxy or an ancient supernova.

Donna Hummell, M.D., knows the night sky so well she has seen every Messier object, participated in four marathons, and once sighted 103 of the 110 in a single night, foiled in the elusive remaining seven objects only by the horizon and the light of the sun.

“Not many have done that, especially by hand,” says Rocky Alvey, program manager of Vanderbilt’s Dyer Observatory, with obvious admiration.

Hummell, associate professor of Pediatrics and Clinical Director of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, examines children for a living and the cosmos for fun. She is an amateur astronomer who has achieved some notable accomplishments, including serving as vice president of the Barnard Seyfert Astronomical Society (BSAS), the organization for Nashvillians who are interested in the cosmos.

 Read the whole story by Wayne Wood at