AstroTalk Episode February 12, 2018

Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan Leavitt

4:01pm - 4:57pm

Early women astronomers, like Annie Jump Cannon and Henrietta Swan Leavitt, made extraordinary contributions to Astronomy, even though as women, they were not permitted to operate telescopes in the great observatories. Prior to the mass use of computers in astrono0my, and in the world at large, NASA required a whole host of calculations to be carried out: trouble was, before the 1960s, computers, or even efficient computers, did not exist. Groups of women, called human calculators, were tasked with doing the vital calculation work that NASA needed on things like trajectories for their rockets. One of these women, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, calculated a whole lot more. Her supervisor, Edward Charles Pickering, tasked her with studying the luminous stars whose luminosity varies over time. Pickering never expected Henrietta Leavitt to come up with any new discoveries, but she did just that. She calculated the period-luminosity relationship for Cepheid Variable stars. Edwin Hubble could not have made his fantastic discoveries without this relationship. Hubble claimed that Leavitt deserved the Nobel Prize in Physics for her work. Gösta Mittag-Leffler of the Swedish Academy of Sciences tried to nominate Leavitt for the Nobel Prize in 1924, but unfortunately she had passed away 3 years earlier. Ms. Leavitt did much groundbreaking work in the field of Astronomy. Annie Jump Cannon was also a noted, early, female Astronomer. She is largely credited with establishing the first star classification system. Cannon, as with Leavitt, was lauded and acknowledged for her work many, many times. She received 2 honorary doctorates, and had many honors bestowed upon her. Henrietta Swan Leavitt and Annie Jump Cannon were 2 women that made amazing contributions to the field of Astronomy. They did so at times when women were underrepresented, and also were not whole-heartedly accepted, in the field of Astronomy.