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Category Archives: Exhibits

Computers at Work: Astronomical labor at the HCO at the turn of the century

The women whose assistance, administration, and computing supported astronomy are now great subjects in the history of science. Far from serving an auxiliary role, these computers standardized the skies, and laid the foundation for modern astrophysics. While we know big names who pioneered new theories through their calculations, many of these…

Whipple’s Moonwatch: Amateur Astronomers in the Space Age

October 4, 2017 marked the 60th anniversary of the launch of Earth’s first artificial satellite “Sputnik,” in 1957. The world was astonished by the news that the Soviet Union had successfully put a satellite into Earth’s orbit for the first time in history. Sputnik had a profound impact on international…

Cecilia and Sergei: American Astronomers

Many great minds and personalities have graced this Observatory, but few so illustrious as those of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin and her husband Sergei. Together, and separately, they made great impacts on how astronomers see the universe. Cecilia began questioning the make-up of the stars, finding in her graduate research that hydrogen…

Illustrating Astronomy: E.L. Trouvelot at HCO

Celestial photography often stands as the legacy of the Harvard College Observatory in its early years. But its directors still recognized the value of old-fashioned observations of a human eye in real time. To assist their work at the telescope, they tended to hire assistants trained in astronomy and skilled…

Annie Jump Cannon: Account of the Total Eclipse

[Background Note: Annie Jump Cannon traveled to Virginia Beach, VA to see the total solar eclipse of May 28, 1900. She wrote this journal shortly after observation. The journal is now part of the Papers of Annie Jump Cannon, 1863-1978 collection at the Harvard University Archives (HUGFP 125). This transcription of…

Eclipse Expeditions: From HCO and SAO out into the world

The eclipse of 21 August 2017 offers us the chance to witness a rare and awesome spectacle. The aesthetics of such an event have always excited the casual observer, but astronomers and other scientists often sacrifice the immediate visual beauty for their observations, by which interpretations they can illuminate a…

The First Computer: Williamina Fleming and the Horsehead Nebula

Working by day with glass-plate photographs of the night sky, the Harvard Computers of the late 1800s studied the stars in search of cosmic secrets. First among them was Williamina Fleming, an immigrant maid from Scotland. Her career in astronomy is highlighted by discoveries, stellar classification, and a work ethic…