“Spectrography is a way of studying stars by taking pictures that separate astral light into different wavelengths. The practice was pioneered by Dr. Henry Draper of the Harvard Observatory in the late 1800s, but the long and detailed work of interpreting the images and classifying the stars was done by a group of women. In this long overdue tribute to Harvard's 'human computers,' Sobel, author of the classic Longitude, brilliantly intertwines science, history, and biography, charting not only the advances in astrophysics from the 1870s to the 1940s, but also following the progress women made in establishing themselves in a notoriously male-dominated field.”
— Laurie Greer, Politics & Prose Books and Coffee Shop, Washington, DC
#1 New York Times bestselling author Dava Sobel returns with the captivating, little-known true story of a group of women whose remarkable contributions to the burgeoning field of astronomy forever changed our understanding of the stars and our place in the universe In the mid-nineteenth 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. 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 ten novae and more than three hundred 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. Elegantly written and enriched by excerpts from letters, diaries, and memoirs, The Glass Universe is the hidden history of a group of remarkable women who, through their hard work and groundbreaking discoveries, disproved the commonly held belief that the gentler sex had little to contribute to human knowledge.
About the Author
DAVA SOBEL is the author of five books, including the New York Times bestsellers Longitude, Galileo s Daughter, The Planets, and The Glass Universe. A former New York Times science reporter and longtime contributor toThe New Yorker, Audubon, Discover, and Harvard Magazine, she is the recipient of the National Science Board s Individual Public Service Award and the Boston Museum of Science s Bradford Washburn Award, among others."