The Glass Universe

The Glass Universe

How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars

Book - 2016
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The little-known true story of the unexpected and remarkable contributions to astronomy made by a group of women working in the Harvard College Observatory from the late 1800s through the mid-1900s. In the mid-nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as "human computers" to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned from computation to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates. The support of Mrs. Anna Palmer Draper, the widow of a pioneer in stellar photography, enabled the women to discern what stars were made of, divide the stars into meaningful categories for further research, and find a way to measure distances across space by starlight. Sobel tells the hidden history of the women whose contributions to the burgeoning field of astronomy forever changed our understanding of the stars and our place in the universe.
Publisher: New York : Viking, 2016
ISBN: 9780670016952
Characteristics: xii, 324 p. : ill. (some color) ; 24 cm


From Library Staff

Shares the lesser-known story of the scientific contributions of a group of women working at the Harvard College Observatory from the late 1800s through the mid-20th century, tracing their collection of star observations captured nightly on glass photographic plates that enabled extraordinary dis... Read More »

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Mar 30, 2019

The Harvard Observatory collected half a million photographic glass plates of stars, nebulae, comets, and even complete galaxies; this is the fascinating story of the women who studied them, and developed some of the fundamental laws of modern astronomy and spectral analysis to the field.

Aug 06, 2017

Hard to say if book optioned as movie by HBO or Disney given underdog style & tedious work akin to accounting.
Still good group biography & huge impact on astronomy.
Today data stored in computer. However, glass pictures still useful. EMP-proof.

Jun 20, 2017

It's a group portrait, so especially toward the end, you get a better idea of the overall program than the individual women, but the book is an important contribution to the history of science.

Jan 07, 2017

Writer Dava Sobel pulls from obscurity women of science who worked at the Harvard College Observatory in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, 'computing' the stars. If you've been fascinated by starry nights and like learning of unheralded women who made a difference, this is a book to read. It, at times, gets detailed classifying stars, but it's easy to skim a bit!


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