Edward Charles Pickering

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pages: 442 words: 110,704

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel

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Albert Einstein, card file, Cepheid variable, crowdsourcing, dark matter, Dava Sobel, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering, Ernest Rutherford, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, index card, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, John Harrison: Longitude, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, pattern recognition, QWERTY keyboard, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Solar eclipse in 1919, V2 rocket

William Rogers takes charge of meridian observations for astrometry (star positions). 1875 At Joseph Winlock’s death, his daughter Anna joins computing staff. Miss Rhoda G. Saunders is hired as the first female computer from outside the observatory family. 1876 Arthur Searle serves as interim director. 1877 Edward Charles Pickering takes office as fourth director, initiates his program of stellar photometry. 1879 Williamina Fleming is hired as a maid in the Pickering household. Edward Pickering introduces the meridian photometer for judging the brightness of stars. 1880 Edward Pickering publishes his five-type classification of variable stars. 1881 Williamina Fleming becomes a permanent member of the observatory staff. 1882 Edward Pickering and his brother William, of MIT, experiment with lenses for photographing the night sky. Director Pickering issues a call for volunteers, especially women, to observe variable stars and share their results with Harvard. 1883 Harvard Observatory becomes the designated dispenser of information regarding cometary and other discoveries, made by observers anywhere, and telegraphed to observatories everywhere. 1884 Results of first photometry study published in the Annals, vol. 14.

After an absence of several years, Henrietta Leavitt returns as a full-time employee Edward Pickering issues “Photographic Map of the Entire Sky.” 1905 Henrietta Leavitt notices an inordinate number of variables in the Magellanic Clouds. Edward Pickering elected president of the Astronomical and Astrophysical Society of America. 1906 Edward Pickering and Henrietta Leavitt embark on a large-scale determination of photographic magnitudes. Williamina Fleming elected to honorary membership in the Royal Astronomical Society. 1907 Annie Cannon publishes her “Second Catalogue of Variable Stars” in the Annals, vol. 55. Williamina Fleming publishes “A Photographic Study of Variable Stars” in the Annals, vol. 47 Margaret Harwood joins the staff. 1908 Edward Pickering publishes the Revised Harvard Photometry in the Annals, vols. 50 and 54.

“The Astronomical and Astrophysical Society of America.” Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada 4 (1910): 373–78. _____. “The Solar Union.” Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada 7 (1913): 420–37. Plotkin, Harold. “Edward Charles Pickering.” Journal for the History of Astronomy 21 (1990): 47–58. _____. “Edward Charles Pickering’s Diary of a Trip to Pasadena to Attend Meeting of Solar Union, August 1910.” Southern California Quarterly 60 (1978): 29–44. _____. “Edward C. Pickering and the Endowment of Scientific Research in America, 1877–1918.” Isis 69 (1978): 44–57. _____. “Edward C. Pickering, the Henry Draper Memorial, and the Beginnings of Astrophysics in America.” Annals of Science 35 (1978): 365–77. _____. “Harvard College Observatory’s Boyden Station in Peru: Origin and Formative Years, 1879–1898.”


pages: 412 words: 122,952

Day We Found the Universe by Marcia Bartusiak

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Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, Arthur Eddington, California gold rush, Cepheid variable, Copley Medal, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering, Fellow of the Royal Society, fudge factor, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, horn antenna, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Magellanic Cloud, Occam's razor, Pluto: dwarf planet, Solar eclipse in 1919, William of Occam

With his doctor forbidding him to continue observing, he left the mountain at the end of July for a short rest with his family. He was expecting to return to use a new spectrograph, just completed for the Crossley, and begin examining spiral nebulae. But within weeks Keeler died in San Francisco, after experiencing two strokes. The setback for astronomy, said his friend and colleague Campbell, was “incalculable.” Harvard College Observatory director Edward Pickering wrote that the “loss cannot be overestimated… There was no one who seemed to me to have a more brilliant future … or on whom we could better depend for important advances in work of the highest good.” The journal Science ran a tribute to Keeler on the first page of its September 7, 1900, issue. On Mount Hamilton, the memory of Keeler became sacrosanct and remains so to this day. He was the ideal director, an astronomer without equal cut down in his prime.

The Harvard College Observatory did just that in the 1890s, when it established a southern station in the highlands of Peru, just above the town of Arequipa. Before this, for more than a decade, Harvard had been carrying out a formidable task: to catalog every star in the northern sky and accurately gauge its color and brightness. Presented with a sizable endowment for a program in spectroscopy, observatory director Edward C. Pickering resolved to photograph and classify the spectra of all the bright stars as well. The Peruvian observatory allowed Harvard to extend the reach and sweep of this endeavor to the southern sky. By doing this, Pickering was helping astronomy move beyond just tracking the motions of stars across the sky to figuring out their basic properties. Though tedious and wearying, such astronomical surveys can often reveal a few surprises along the way.

Here was a ready workforce, he noted in one annual observatory report, entirely “capable of doing as much and as good routine work as astronomers who would receive much larger salaries. Three or four times as many assistants can thus be employed, and the work done correspondingly increased for a given expenditure.” Williamina Fleming (standing) directs her “computers” while Harvard Observatory director Edward Pickering looks on (Harvard College Observatory) These women “computers,” as they were called, many with college degrees in science, were situated in two cozy workrooms, pleasantly decorated with flowered wallpaper and star charts. Working at ma hogany writing tables, crammed together, each woman through the day might peer through a magnifying glass at her selected plate or industriously record her findings in a notebook.


pages: 492 words: 149,259

Big Bang by Simon Singh

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Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Andrew Wiles, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Astronomia nova, Brownian motion, carbon-based life, Cepheid variable, Chance favours the prepared mind, Commentariolus, Copley Medal, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, Dava Sobel, Defenestration of Prague, discovery of penicillin, Dmitri Mendeleev, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, Erwin Freundlich, Fellow of the Royal Society, fudge factor, Hans Lippershey, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Henri Poincaré, horn antenna, if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras, Index librorum prohibitorum, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Karl Jansky, Louis Daguerre, Louis Pasteur, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, Murray Gell-Mann, music of the spheres, Olbers’ paradox, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Paul Erdős, retrograde motion, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, scientific mainstream, Simon Singh, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, unbiased observer, V2 rocket, Wilhelm Olbers, William of Occam

At the centre of the photographic revolution in astronomy was the Harvard College Observatory, partly thanks to its first director, William Cranch Bond, who had taken the first daguerreotype of a star at night, Vega, back in 1850. Also, the amateur astronomer Henry Draper, whose father John Draper had taken the first photograph of the Moon, bequeathed his personal fortune to Harvard in order to photograph and catalogue all the observable stars. This allowed Edward Pickering, who became director of the observatory in 1877, to initiate a relentless programme of celestial photography. The observatory would take half a million photographic plates in the decades to come, so one of Pickering’s biggest challenges was to establish an industrial-scale system for analysing the photographs. Each plate contained hundreds of stars, and each speck would need to have its brightness evaluated and its location measured.

This was partly because the telescopes were housed in cold, dark observatories, which were considered unsuitable for the fairer sex, and partly because Victorian sensitivities would have been offended by the thought of a man and a woman working together late into the night, staring up at the romantic array of stars. But at least the women could now examine the photographic results of night-time observations and contribute to astronomy, a discipline that had largely excluded them in the past. Figure 43 The Harvard ‘computers’ at work, busy examining photographic plates while Edward Pickering and Williamina Fleming watch over them. On the back wall are two plots that show the oscillating brightness of stars. Although Williamina Fleming’s team of women computers were supposed to focus on the drudgery of harvesting data from the photographs so that the male astronomers could conduct the research, it was not long before they were reaching their own scientific conclusions. Endless days spent staring at the photographic plates had given them an intimate familiarity with the stellar objects that they were surveying.


pages: 310 words: 89,653

The Interstellar Age: Inside the Forty-Year Voyager Mission by Jim Bell

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Albert Einstein, crowdsourcing, dark matter, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering, en.wikipedia.org, Eratosthenes, gravity well, Isaac Newton, Kuiper Belt, Mars Rover, planetary scale, Pluto: dwarf planet, polynesian navigation, Ronald Reagan, Saturday Night Live, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Stephen Hawking, V2 rocket

The idea of collaborative science was generally more rare, although there were some important and profound early advances in math, physics, and astronomy made by larger groups working together, such as the astronomer and mathematician Nasir al-Din al-Tusi and his thirteenth-century research team studying planetary motion at the Maragheh Observatory in Iran. Or the academics working together on early forms of calculus to propose some of the first models for a sun-centered universe in the sixteenth-century Kerala school of mathematics in India (influencing, in their writings, another loner astronomer in Poland, the previously mentioned Nicolaus Copernicus). Or Harvard astronomer Edward Pickering’s early-twentieth-century group of mostly female “computers” toiling through enormous telescopic data sets to work out the modern basis for the classification of stars. As technology has advanced, and the breadth of knowledge required to understand, utilize, and improve that technology has expanded, it has become more difficult for individuals, or even small groups of people, to define the cutting edge of science, and especially space science.


pages: 330 words: 99,226

Extraterrestrial Civilizations by Isaac Asimov

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Albert Einstein, Cepheid variable, Columbine, Edward Charles Pickering, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, invention of radio, invention of the telescope, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Magellanic Cloud, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

In that case, one would produce a red shift, while the other was simultaneously producing a violet shift, and that is why the lines would appear to double. It is the same principle that causes the lines of a rotating star to broaden. The revolution of two stars is more rapid than the rotation of one star, so that in the latter case the broadening is carried on to the point of actual spreading apart into two lines. The first such “spectroscopic binary” to be discovered was Mizar, and it was in 1889 that the American astronomer Edward Charles Pickering (1846–1919) detected the doubling of its spectral lines. Actually, the component stars of Mizar are separated by 164 million kilometers (102 million miles), which is a larger separation than that of the stars of the Capella system. The Mizar pair fail to be seen as a pair in the telescope because the system is so far away. The component stars of some spectroscopic binaries are much closer to each other than that.