‘The Glass Universe’ celebrates astronomy’s unsung heroines | Science News

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‘The Glass Universe’ celebrates astronomy’s unsung heroines

Women in the 19th century played underappreciated role in mapping and understanding the stars

By
8:00am, November 27, 2016
Lady computers

SHINING STARS  In the late 1890s, Harvard observatory hired women as “computers” to document data captured on glass plate images of the night sky. Their observations and ideas, described in a new book, led to such advances in astronomy as how to measure the distance to stars.

The Glass Universe
Dava Sobel
Viking, $30

In the early 1880s, Harvard Observatory director Edward Pickering put out a call for volunteers to help observe flickering stars. He welcomed women, in particular — and not just because he couldn’t afford to pay anything.

At the time, women’s colleges were producing graduates with “abundant training to make excellent observers,” Pickering wrote. His belief in women’s abilities carried over when he hired staff, even though critics of women’s higher education argued that women “originate almost nothing, so that human knowledge is not advanced by their work.”

Pickering and his “harem” sure proved the critics wrong.

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