The Harvard Computers who changed astronomy (pictures) – CNET
Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941) was something of a rarity. She attended Wellesley College, studying under Sarah Frances Whiting, one of America’s first female physicists, excelling at maths and graduating with a physics degree in 1884.
Alas for Cannon, jobs for women of her education were not exactly abundant. So she moved back home to Delaware and concentrated on her photography. In 1893, she contracted scarlet fever, which left her nearly deaf; in 1894, her mother died, which left her in dire straits. She wrote to Whiting, who took her on as a junior physics teacher. From there, she was hired by Pickering in 1896 as one of his computers.
Cannon was a star-classifying prodigy. She could classify three stars a minute based on their spectra, and, using a magnifying glass, down to the ninth order of magnitude. Accounts vary, but she classified somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 stars.
Building on Fleming’s work classifying stars based on their spectra, Cannon devised a system of classifying stars based on their temperatures. Her system is called the Harvard Classification Scheme, and it is still in use today. She took over the role of Curator on Fleming’s death in 1911, and in 1938 was given the position of William C Bond Astronomer. She was also the first female recipient of an honorary doctorate from Oxford, and the first female member of the American Astronomical Society.
In her lifetime, she discovered discovered 300 variable stars, five novae, and one spectroscopic binary.