May Kaftan-Kassim

May Arif Kaftan-Kassim (born 1928), also known as May A. Kaftan, is an Iraqi radio astronomer. She trained at Harvard University, and advised on the creation of the Erbil Observatory in Iraq in the 1970s.

May Kaftan-Kassim
May Arif Kaftan


Early lifeEdit

May Arif Kaftan came from a "fairly conventional, very religious Muslim family," by her own account. Her father was a government official.[1] She attended the University of Manchester as an undergraduate and graduate student, on a scholarship for Iraqi students in the sciences.[2] She completed her doctoral studies in astronomy at Radcliffe College in 1958, with a dissertation titled A study of neutral hydrogen in a region in Cygnus.[3] American astronomers Nan Dieter-Conklin and Frank Drake were her classmates in astronomy at Harvard; they all finished in the same year, and all studied under Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin.[4]


Kaftan-Kassim worked at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia, from 1964 to 1966.[2] In 1968, she attended the United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), in Vienna, informally representing Iraq.[2] She was on staff at the Dudley Observatory at the State University of New York at Albany in the early 1970s.[5] While attending the annual URSI meeting in Washington D.C. in 1981, Kaftan-Kassim gave an oral history interview for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory archives.[6] She was a visiting professor of astronomy at Agnes Scott College, 1983-1984.[7][8]

Erbil Observatory, which Kaftan-Kassim helped launch in the 1970s.

Kaftan-Kassim helped establish the astronomy program at the University of Baghdad, advising on texts and hiring.[9] She returned to Baghdad in the mid-1970s to advise on the construction of Iraq's National Astronomical Observatory,[10] near Erbil,[11] and was a project manager there, before she lost her position in 1981 in a shifting political context.[2] "I came back with the understanding that it would be six months here, six months there," she explained to an American newspaper in 1979, "but there is so much to do I can't go back to the States."[1] She spent some time doing research at the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory in the Soviet Union.[12] She did, eventually, return to the United States to live.[13] The American Astronomical Society listed her as a member for over 60 years in 2017.[14]

Research publications by Kaftan-Kassim included "Measurements of the 1.9 cm Thermal Radio Emission from Mercury" (Nature 1967),[15] "A Survey of High-Frequency Radio Radiation from Planetary Nebulae" (Astrophysical Journal 1969),[16] "High Frequency Radio Observations of the Stephan's Quintet Region" (Nature 1975),[17] "Extinction and Radio Structure of IC 2149" (Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 1977),[18] and "A Radio Continuum Survey of Isolated Pairs of Galaxies" (Astronomical Journal 1978).[19]

Personal lifeEdit

Kaftan married pediatrician Sami El-Sheikh Kassim; they separated in the 1970s.[1] Their son Namir E. Kassim was born in Baghdad; he also became a radio astronomer in the United States.[20]


  1. ^ a b c Hendrix, Kathleen (December 2, 1979). "A Woman Astronomer's View from Iraq". The Los Angeles Times. p. 145. Retrieved May 28, 2019 – via
  2. ^ a b c d Determann, Jörg Matthias (January 29, 2018). Space Science and the Arab World: Astronauts, Observatories and Nationalism in the Middle East. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 19, 39, 45–46. ISBN 9781786733528.
  3. ^ Kaftan Kassim, May Arif (1958). A study of neutral hydrogen in a region in Cygnus (Thesis). OCLC 22975232.
  4. ^ Interview of Nan Dieter-Conklin by David DeVorkin on 1977 July 19, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics.
  5. ^ Erkes, J. W. & Weinberg, J. L. (1975). "Dudley Observatory and State University of New York at Albany (SUNYA), Albany, New York" Bulletin of the Astronomical Society 7: 31.
  6. ^ "Papers of Woodruff T. Sullivan III". Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  7. ^ "May Kaftan-Kassim". Agnes Scott College Department of Physics. Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  8. ^ "Lectures". The Atlanta Constitution. December 31, 1983. Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  9. ^ "Office Opened by Dr. Kassim". The Bridgeport Post. March 4, 1964. p. 14. Retrieved May 28, 2019 – via
  10. ^ "Albany Teacher Invited to Iraq". The Post-Star. May 9, 1974. p. 16. Retrieved May 28, 2019 – via
  11. ^ "Iraq grapples with sandy solar collectors". Christian Science Monitor. March 21, 1983. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  12. ^ Braude, S. Y.; Dubinskii, B. A.; Kaidanovskii, N. L.; Kardashev, N. S.; Kobrin, M. M.; Kuzmin, A. D.; Molchanov, A. P.; Pariiskii, Yu N.; Rzhiga, O. N. (March 14, 2012). A Brief History of Radio Astronomy in the USSR: A Collection of Scientific Essays. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 169. ISBN 9789400728332.
  13. ^ "May A. Kaftan". International Astronomical Union Member Directory. 2017. Retrieved May 29, 2019.
  14. ^ Tinch, Crystal M. (February 22, 2017). "AAS Member Anniversaries in 2017". American Astronomical Society. Retrieved May 29, 2019.
  15. ^ Kaftan-Kassim, M. A.; Kellermann, K. I. (January 1967). "Measurements of the 1.9 cm Thermal Radio Emission from Mercury". Nature. 213 (5073): 272–273. doi:10.1038/213272a0. ISSN 0028-0836.
  16. ^ Kaftan-Kassim, May A. (February 1, 1969). "A Survey of High-Frequency Radio Radiation from Planetary Nebulae". The Astrophysical Journal. 155: 469. Bibcode:1969ApJ...155..469K. doi:10.1086/149882. ISSN 0004-637X.
  17. ^ Sistla, Gopal; Sulentic, Jack W.; Kaftan-Kassim, May A. (1975). "High frequency radio observations of the Stephan's Quintet region". Nature. 253 (5488): 176–177. doi:10.1038/253176a0. ISSN 1476-4687.
  18. ^ Sistla, G.; Kaftan-Kassim, M. A. (March 1, 1977). "Extinction and radio structure of IC 2149". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 178 (3): 325–328. doi:10.1093/mnras/178.3.325. ISSN 0035-8711.
  19. ^ Stocke, J. T.; Tifft, W. G.; Kaftan-Kassim, M. A. (March 1978). "A radio continuum survey of isolated pairs of galaxies". The Astronomical Journal. 83: 322. Bibcode:1978AJ.....83..322S. doi:10.1086/112209.
  20. ^ "Namir Kassim". University of New Mexico, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Center for Astrophysical Research and Technologies. Retrieved May 29, 2019.

External linksEdit