‘The Glass Universe’- April 11, 2017 Lecture

by Ira Polans, Program Chair

The April AAAP meeting is on the 11th at 7:30PM in Peyton Hall on the Princeton University campus. The talk is by author Dava Sobel, author of “Longitude”, on her latest book “The Glass Universe”. After the talk there will be a break for a book signing. Labyrinth books will be on hand with books for purchase. You can save some time by buying your book(s) prior to the signing. They accept payment in cash, checks, or credit card.

In the mid-19th century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or “human computers”, to interpret the observations made via telescope by their male counterparts each night. At the outset this group included the wives, sisters, and daughters of the resident astronomers, but by the 1880s the female corps included graduates of the new women’s colleges—Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith.

Dava Sobel

Dava Sobel

As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates. The “glass universe” of half a million plates that Harvard amassed in this period—thanks in part to the early financial support of another woman, Mrs. Anna Draper, whose late husband pioneered the technique of stellar photography —enabled the women to make extraordinary discoveries that attracted worldwide acclaim. They helped discern what stars were made of, divided the stars into meaningful categories for further research, and found a way to measure distances across space by starlight

Their ranks included Williamina Fleming, a Scottish woman originally hired as a maid who went on to identify 10 novae and more than 300 variable stars; Annie Jump Cannon, who designed a stellar classification system that was adopted by astronomers the world over and is still in use; and Dr. Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin, who in 1956 became the first ever woman professor of astronomy at Harvard—and Harvard’s first female department chair.

Prior to the meeting there will be a meet-the-speaker dinner at 6PM at Winberie’s in Palmer Square in Princeton. The dinner is members-only and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis with a limit of 18 club members. NOTE: Guests will be accommodated only if less than 18 club members wish to attend.

If you’re interested in attending the dinner please contact me at program@princetonastronomy.org. In your request please indicate who’s the paid member and who is the guest (Limit 1 guest per member).

As mentioned last month, we’re planning to schedule a short meeting (of about 30-45 minutes) in April to seek club member’s suggestions for speakers for next year. The proposed meeting dates are April 19, or 26 at about 7PM in Peyton Hall. If you’re interested in participating please email me indicating which days is good for you (in order of preference). We’re particularly interested in suggestions about amateur astronomer related topics. Based on the responses I will schedule the meeting based on member preference and room availability. If you can’t make any of these dates please email me with your suggestions. Please include the speaker’s name, subject matter, and affiliation.

See you on Tuesday, April 11.

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