Summer/Fall 2024: With support from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Coalition of Asian American Leaders, SUNWATCHER will be workshopped and presented in Minneapolis/St. Paul.


Developed in part at Musical Theatre Factory, Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s The Ground Floor, Loghaven, Goodspeed Musicals’ Johnny Mercer Writers Grove, the Civilians’ R&D Group, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater’s Global Forms Festival, Tofte Lake Center’s National Emerging Artists Program, Weston Theater Company, and Ancram Center for the Arts.

Who was Hisako Koyama?

Banner Image of Hisako Butterfly Image

Sunspot-group butterfly diagram, reproduced from Koyama (1985)

Image of Hisako Koyama

Image of Hisako Koyama by Asahigraph, 1951

“Koyama deserves some long-overdue recognition. . .

Her story transcends boundaries.”

- Dr. Delores Knipp

Professor of aerospace engineering (University of Colorado, Boulder)

“During World War II, Tokyo often held drills to prepare citizens for airstrikes. But when the sirens blared and blackouts hit the city, a young Hisako Koyama would sneak back outside with her futon in one hand and a star chart in the other...”  [PBS NewsHour]

Japanese astronomer and “hidden figure” Hisako Koyama (1916-1997) drew the spots on the sun’s surface, every day for 40 years. Her archive of 10,000 sunspot sketches was a historic milestone in solar science. A woman with no formal scientific education, Hisako quietly flaunted 20th-century Japanese social conventions as she rose to international prominence.

What is a sunspot?

A sunspot looks like a dark spot on the surface of the sun. It’s a region where the sun is cooler than usual, due to the strength of its magnetic field. Sunspots are constantly moving and growing (the average sunspot is about the size of planet Earth!).

Animated Gif of Solar Sunspot

Image by The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences/The Institute for Solar Physics

Why do sunspots matter?

When sunspots are more active, the result is a spike in the Earth’s geomagnetic storm activity, which can disrupt power grids and satellites.

Radar, radio, television, the internet, GPS, weather forecasts, and more… All our electronic methods of communication, research, and navigation hinge on our understanding of the sun.

Why was Hisako’s work important?

Hisako’s work helps us understand the solar cycle, an 11-year-long pattern in which sunspots form, move, and dissolve. Over her lifetime, she fully documented an astounding three and a half solar cycles!

Animated Gif of Solar Sunspot

Hisako Koyama observed the largest sunspot of the 20th century on April 5th, 1947. The collection above shows her drawings from the weeks surrounding that date. Images by the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo.

Recently, scientists reconstructed the history of sunspots from the 1610s to the early 2000s, using data from a handful of the best solar observers throughout history – including Galileo, Staudacher, Schwabe, and Hisako Koyama.

Hisako Koyama subverts our expectations of what science looks like. She reminds us how seemingly small acts can have an immense impact over time... through the power of observation and perseverance.

Minnesota State Arts Board LogoClean Water Land & Legacy Amendmend Logo

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.



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