Occupation: Professor of Astronomy
Year born: 1965
Research Areas: History, Cultural Studies of Astronomy, African Indigenous Astronomy
"There is a history of sky-watching all over the world, but the way that we teach astronomy is only Newton and Galileo and perhaps Stonehenge."
Source: Science Mag, June 2007
Jarita was born in Hawaii and grew up in California in the USA. They are from a family with strong academic links (both parents got science degrees) and Jarita decided to follow in their parents' footsteps and studied physics at Caltech. Jarita went on to get a PhD in astrophysics from the University of California, investigating star formation.
Jarita switched academic fields to look at the culture of astronomy. Anthony Aveni helped them make that career change. Jarita primarily draws on methods from anthropology, history, folklore, area studies and astronomy. You can find them in the department of Science, Technology and Innovation Studies at the University of Edinburgh, UK.
Jarita is an expert in African indigenous astronomy and culture. They have also done work looking at how different cultures use stars to navigate. Jarita has written and produced several films including "Black Suns: An Astrophysics Adventure". The film follows two African-American astrophysicists chasing the two solar eclipses of 2012.
In 2020, Jarita became the President of the International Society for Archaeoastronomy & Astronomy in Culture.
Jarita leads an American Astronomical Society Oral History Project. It is a set of interviews with many people working in astronomy. The project looks at the science, culture and the issue of diversity. It will be a time capsule of the field of astronomy as it is today.
Jarita says: "My students are my legacy". They believe that teaching, encouraging and mentoring young, diverse people in astronomy is one of the most important things we can do.
Jarita was elected a Legacy Fellow of the American Astronomical Society in 2020.
Jarita spent two years in the Peace Corps serving as a volunteer in Fiji. This experience led them to research the cultural astronomy of the region. They are a published author, love to dance, and has turned a love of travel into an award-winning web series The Science Tourists.