The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel
Call Number: Truax 522.19744409252 SO677 CD
Publication Date: 2016-12-06
In the mid-nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as "human computers," to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned from computation to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates. The "glass universe" of half a million plates that Harvard amassed over the ensuing decades enabled the women to make extraordinary discoveries. They helped discern what stars were made of, divided the stars into meaningful categories for further research, and found a way to measure distances across space by starlight.
Their ranks included Williamina Fleming, a Scottish woman originally hired as a maid who went on to identify ten novae and more than three hundred variable stars; Annie Jump Cannon, who designed a stellar classification system that was adopted by astronomers the world over and is still in use; and Dr. Cecilia Helena Payne, who in 1956 became the first ever woman professor of astronomy at Harvard--and Harvard's first female department chair. The Glass Universe is the hidden history of the women whose contributions to the burgeoning field of astronomy forever changed our understanding of the stars and our place in the universe.