how-a-team-of-female-astronomers-revolutionized-our-understanding-of-stars

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Interactive video lesson plan for: How a Team of Female Astronomers Revolutionized Our Understanding of Stars

Activity overview:

At the turn of the 19th century, male astronomers mainly studied galaxies, leaving female scientists wide latitude to research and innovate. Indeed they accomplished truly stellar work. Frebel's book is "Searching for the Oldest Stars: Ancient Relics from the Early Universe" (http://goo.gl/MH9G87).

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Transcript - Stellar astronomy – so the work with stars - has actually a strong tradition of women working in the field and making significant contributions. Many people, certainly about a hundred years ago, they just thought “Stars are not so interesting, let’s study galaxies.” That was the big thing, because that was the time when people found out that the universe is expanding and that was of course found out by studying galaxies. So that was a hot topic. Women were hired to do stellar work. So stellar in both ways – working with stars but it also actually turned out that there work was stellar because they did so much. They classified stars, they calculated positions and other things about all these objects.

For example, Annie Jump Cannon classified in her lifetime I think half a million stars or something. And her classification scheme is still used and still taught. I teach it in my introductory astronomy class. Another lady, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, she found out that stars are made mostly from hydrogen and helium. Stars are made 75 percent hydrogen, 25 percent helium. But at that time that was maybe around 1914-1915 it was thought that stars are made of the same material as the Earth. And so this was absolutely brilliant because she applied quantum mechanical knowledge to stars for the very first time. And at first people laughed at it and they wouldn’t believe her. But this is such a fundamental result I cannot stress this enough. I mean everything we know about the universe rests now on the assumption and the knowledge that what stars are made of, namely mostly hydrogen and helium because the universe is mostly made of hydrogen and helium.

And so these are just two examples of these early works by these women who were called the Computers, the Harvard Computers because they all worked up there and they painstakingly did all these classifications and calculations that today indeed computers do. But without their contributions I think our overall knowledge of astronomy would not – or for a long time - would not have been what it was.

Tagged under: Anna Frebel,stellar astronomy,stars,women,female scientists,universe,expanding,galaxies,study,star classification,calculations,positions,Annie Jump Cannon,Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin,hydrogen,helium,Earth,quantum mechanics,fundamental,computers,Harvard Computers,Big Think,BigThink,BigThink.,Education,Educational,Lifelong Learning,EDU

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