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  • Writer's pictureMark Jeffery

HoA: Henrietta Levitt – the overlooked pioneer of distance, by Paul Wright

What a fascinating story about one of the unsung heroes of Astronomy.

It seems that Henrietta, along with Annie Jump Cannon, Williamina Flemming, and a group of ladies where instrumental in cataloguing stars on photographic plates in the 1880s at the Harvard Observatory.


Edward Pickering, the observatory director employed a group of 13 women, on 25c an hour to catalogue the stars for him. They were not given credit for their work until much later and even the somewhat grudgingly. It turns out that without her work Hubble would never have been able to calculate the distance to Andromeda and discover that is a completely different galaxy to our own.


In a paper in 1912 Henrietta was mentioned as being significant in the discovery of Cephid Variables and the first to see there is “a simple relation between the brightness of the variables and their periods.”


Her work in describing the spectral type of stars, into O, B, A, F, G, K, M are still the categories we use today.


The video link and password will be in the upcoming newsletter so please keep an eye out for it to discover more about Henrietta Levitt, and her amazing work. We hope to hear more about the work of Annie Jump Canon in the near future.


Images by Bobby Manoo & Mike Meynell


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