At Radcliffe, an exhibit that stitches together the stars

Saturday, December 15, 2018 - 23:40 in Astronomy & Space

Her countless hours at Harvard mapping the stars are central to understanding the universe. Though she didn’t live to see the far-reaching implications of her work, a new Radcliffe exhibit shows how her efforts helped unlock mysteries of the cosmos. Radcliffe graduate Henrietta Leavitt was one of the more than 80 women who worked at the Harvard Observatory from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s carefully analyzing a record of the heavens on glass-plate negatives, a collection that includes more than 500,000 celestial moments and is considered the oldest and most comprehensive archive of the night sky. But Leavitt died in 1921, before others used her observations of Cepheid variable stars (those whose brightness pulses at regular intervals), ­and her key discovery of the relationship between a Cepheid star’s luminosity and how frequently it pulses, to make a range of key discoveries about our galaxy. Her work enabled other astronomers to measure...

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