Annie Jump Cannon

Oh, Be A Fine Girl—Kiss Me! This phrase has helped several generations of astronomers to learn the spectral classifications of stars. Ironically, this mnemonic device, still used today, refers to a scheme developed by a woman.

In a time when women rarely attended college, Annie Jump Cannon studied physics, mathematics, and astronomy, and in 1896 she was hired by Edward Charles Pickering at Harvard, as one of several women assigned to assist Pickering in the Henry Draper Catalog of Stellar Spectra. Cannon, however, found the system being used unworkable, and devised a different system, categorizing stars by letters of the alphabet. Now called the Harvard Spectral Classification Scheme, her methodology was adopted by the International Astronomical Union in 1922 as the official system for stellar spectra classification.

Cannon discovered about 300 stars and classified the photographic spectra of about 325,000 more, for which Time profiled her as “Census-taker of the sky”. She was the first woman officer of the American Astronomical Society, holding the post of Treasurer for seven years. She was nominated for membership in the National Academy of Sciences, but not elected, after noted biologist Raymond Pearl made an issue of her deafness. She was given an official appointment by Harvard as Astronomer in 1938, the first woman so honored. An outspoken suffragette, she said that her interest in the heavens was stoked by her mother, who also had an intense interest in stargazing.

Posted 8 months ago with 311 notes
Tagged:annie+jump+cannonstellar spectrastarspectrascienceAstronomyhistory

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