Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Annie Jump Cannon

Oh! Be A Fine Girl—Kiss Me!
Mnemonic device used to learn the spectral classification of stars developed by Annie Jump Cannon

Born this day in 1863: Annie Jump Cannon (1863–1897), astronomer who classified the stars

Cannon, a native of Dover Delaware, was introduced to astronomy as a girl by her mother. She pursued her interest at Wellesley college and developed a further interest in spectroscopy. She graduated in 1884. For a while she busied herself with music (she was a gifted pianist), travel, and social pursuits. In 1894 she returned to Wellesley for postgraduate work and enrolled in Radcliffe College as a special student in astronomy. In 1896 she began working at the Harvard College Observatory under Edward C. Pickering. She took a special interest in the study of variable stars.
Cannon revised the system of stellar classification, developing the spectral classification used today. Her classification of more than 225,ooo stars was published in 9 volumes as the Henry Draper Catalogue (1918–24) and later extended in two additional volumes (1918–24). She also discovered 277 variable starts and 5 novae. In all, she identified about half a million stars. 
From 1911 until her retirement in 1940 Cannon was the Curator of Astronomical Photographs at Harvard. She was denied a regular appointment at Harvard until two years before she retired because—say it with me, people—she was a woman. In 1938 she finally received an appointment as the William Crunch Bond Astronomer.
Cannon received numerous awards during her lifetime, including honorary membership in the Royal Astronomical Society in 1914 and an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1925. In 1931 the National Academy of Sciences awarded her the Draper Gold Medal. She was also the first woman officer of the American Astronomical society.
Cannon was a popular lecturer and an ardent feminist. She established the Annie J. Cannon Prize of the American Astronomical Society in 1933. The award recognizes distinguished women atoners and  supports their postdoctoral studies.

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