Henrietta Swan Leavitt was born in Lancaster, Massachusetts back in 1868 to George and Henrietta. She attended Oberlin College before transferring to Harvard University’s Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women (now Radcliffe College). during her fourth year she took a course in astronomy earning an A-.
She started working as one of the women “computers” at the Harvard College Observatory to measure and catalog the brightness of starts as the appeared in the observatory’s photographic plate collection. In 1898, she became a member of the Harvard staff as their first “Curator of Astronomical Photographs”. She left for Europe returning in 1903, she was paid $0.30 per hour or about $10.50 per week. She died in 1921 from stomach cancer, she was 53.
What you may not know about Henrietta is that she discovered the relation between the luminosity and the period of Cepheid variables. Until that discovery astronomers were only able to measure distances up to about a couple of hundreds of light years. with her discovery there were able to measure the distances up to about 20 million light years. Edwin Hubble used her discovery together with the galactic spectral shifts to establish the Milky Way diameter of about 100,000 light years.
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