Friday, December 10, 2010

In History: Annie Jump Cannon

This is the 55th post in a weekly feature here at Spare Candy, called "In History." Some posts might be little more than a photo, others full on features. If you have any suggestions for a person or event that should be featured, or would like to submit a guest post or cross post, e-mail me at rosiered23 (at) sparecandy (dot) com.

Annie Jump Cannon was born Dec. 11, 1863 (happy birthday to her!). She was an American astronomer whose cataloging work was instrumental in the development of contemporary stellar classification. Cannon, along with Edward C. Pickering, is credited with the creation of the Harvard Classification Scheme, which was the first serious attempt to organize and classify stars based on their temperatures.

Cannon attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she contracted scarlet fever. As a result, she became almost completely deaf. Cannon graduated with a degree in physics in 1884, and eventually became the assistant to one of her former professors, Sarah Frances Whiting. Cannon's job allowed her to take graduate courses at the college. She returned to Wellesley in 1894 for graduate study in physics and astronomy. Cannon then decided to enroll at Radcliffe Women's College at Harvard, which had access to the Harvard College Observatory -- and a better telescope. By 1907, she had received a MA from Wellesley.

In 1896, Cannon became a member of "Pickering’s women," the women hired by Harvard Observatory director Edward Charles Pickering to complete the Draper Catalog mapping and defining all the stars in the sky.

Cannon's Henry Draper Catalog listed nearly 230,000 stars and was valued as the work of a single observer. Her work earned her the nickname "Census Taker of the Sky." She also published many other catalogs of variable stars, including 300 that she discovered. Her career lasted more than 40 years. Cannon died April 13, 1941, after receiving a regular Harvard appointment as the William C. Bond Astronomer. She also received the Henry Draper Medal, which only one other woman has won: Martha P. Haynes, who shared it with a male colleague.

Cannon won many other awards and honors:
  • In 1925, she received the first honorary doctorate Oxford University ever awarded to a woman.
  • In 1929, the National League of Women Voters listed her as one of the 12 "greatest living American women."
  • In 1931 awarded the Henry Draper Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.
  • In 1932 awarded the Ellen Richards Prize.
  • First woman elected an officer of the American Astronomical Society.
  • In 1938 named the William Cranch Bond Astronomer at Harvard.
  • The crater Cannon on the Moon is named after her.
You can read more about Cannon and her career here and here.

Photo source 1; photo source 2

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