The Glass Universe

The Glass Universe

How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars

Book - 2016
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The little-known true story of the unexpected and remarkable contributions to astronomy made by a group of women working in the Harvard College Observatory from the late 1800s through the mid-1900s.--
"In the late nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or "human computers," to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. At the outset this group consisted of the wives, sisters, and daughters of the resident astronomers, but soon the female corps included graduates of the new women's colleges--Vassar, Wellesley, Radcliffe, and Smith. 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--through the generous support of Mrs. Anna Palmer Draper, the widow of a pioneer in stellar photography--enabled the women to make extraordinary discoveries that attracted worldwide acclaim. They helped discern what the stars were made of, divided the stars into meaningful categories for further research, and even found a way to measure distances across space by starlight. Their ranks included Williamina Fleming, a Scottish immigrant 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 today; and Dr. Cecilia Helena Payne, who in 1956 became the first woman professor of astronomy at Harvard--and Harvard's first female department chair. Elegantly written and enriched by excerpts from letters, diaries, and memoirs, 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."--Dust jacket.
Publisher: New York, New York : Viking, [2016]
Copyright Date: ©2016
ISBN: 9780670016952
0670016950
Branch Call Number: 522.19744 H2612S 2016
Characteristics: xii, 324 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 24 cm

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mammothhawk229e
Aug 06, 2017

Hard to say if book optioned as movie by HBO or Disney given underdog style & tedious work akin to accounting.
Still good group biography & huge impact on astronomy.
Today data stored in computer. However, glass pictures still useful. EMP-proof.

p
patcarstensen
Jun 20, 2017

It's a group portrait, so especially toward the end, you get a better idea of the overall program than the individual women, but the book is an important contribution to the history of science.

e
EmilyEm
Jan 07, 2017

Writer Dava Sobel pulls from obscurity women of science who worked at the Harvard College Observatory in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, 'computing' the stars. If you've been fascinated by starry nights and like learning of unheralded women who made a difference, this is a book to read. It, at times, gets detailed classifying stars, but it's easy to skim a bit!

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