Miss Leavitt's Stars: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Discovered How to Measure the Universe

Miss Leavitt s Stars The Untold Story of the Woman Who Discovered How to Measure the Universe A forgotten heroine of science and how she solved one of the crucial mysteries of the universe How big is the universe In the early twentieth century scientists took sides One held that the entire un

  • Title: Miss Leavitt's Stars: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Discovered How to Measure the Universe
  • Author: George Johnson
  • ISBN: 9780393051285
  • Page: 159
  • Format: Hardcover
  • A forgotten heroine of science and how she solved one of the crucial mysteries of the universe How big is the universe In the early twentieth century, scientists took sides One held that the entire universe was contained in the Milky Way galaxy Their champion was the strong willed astronomer Harlow Shapley Another camp believed that the universe was so vast that theA forgotten heroine of science and how she solved one of the crucial mysteries of the universe.How big is the universe In the early twentieth century, scientists took sides One held that the entire universe was contained in the Milky Way galaxy Their champion was the strong willed astronomer Harlow Shapley Another camp believed that the universe was so vast that the Milky Way was just one galaxy among billions the view that would prevail, proven by the equally headstrong Edwin Hubble Almost forgotten is the Harvard Observatory computer a human number cruncher hired to calculate the positions and luminosities of stars in astronomical photographs who found the key to the mystery Radcliffe educated Henrietta Swan Leavitt, fighting ill health and progressive deafness, stumbled upon a new law that allowed astronomers to use variable stars those whose brightness rhythmically changes as a cosmic yardstick Miss Leavitt s Stars is both a masterly account of how we measure the universe and the moving story of a neglected genius 10 illustrations

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      George Johnson

    About Author

    1. Librarian note There is than one author in the GoodReads database with this nameGeorge Johnson born January 20, 1952 is an American journalist and science writer He is the author of a number of books, including The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments 2008 and Strange Beauty Murray Gell Mann and the Revolution in 20th Century Physics 1999 , and writes for a number of publications, including The New York Times.He is one of the co hosts with science writer John Horgan of Science Saturday , a weekly discussion on the website Bloggingheads, related to topics in science Several prominent scientists, philosophers, and bloggers have been interviewed for the site.

    One thought on “Miss Leavitt's Stars: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Discovered How to Measure the Universe

    1. It s quite amazing how the author has managed to put together a book about Henrietta Swan Leavitt, with so little known about her However it appears to focus and in some sense rightly so on the Cepheid variables and how they came to be used as standard candles for measuring distances to galaxies It s certainly an easy read.

    2. This was a thriftstore find, sucker that I am It was about the discovery that Leavitt made, and how it played out, rather than about the woman herself, as she left very little in terms of notes and writings, as well as have been undervalued or at least not recognized for a variety of societal reasons I did greatly appreciate being able to learn about and place into historical context some of the names that have haunted my childhood, which involved living near Cambridge, MA.I will also admit tha [...]

    3. Henrietta Leavitt reached a profound conclusion that addressed the distance problem She had become obsessed with stars that vary in brightness over periods of days or weeks The variation is generally subtle and hard for the eye to discern, but it was now possible to spot variable stars by comparing photographs taken several nights apart Leavitt would eventually discover than 2,400 variable stars, about half of all those known in her lifetime A Princeton astronomer, Charles Young, paid her frien [...]

    4. Jag brukar inte l sa biografier om kvinnor i f r att de g r mig s arg och f rtvivlad All or ttvisa och f rminskning som fortfarande p g r inom mansdominerade yrken och f nerier som fortfarande inte riktigt l stagbar upp Detta inneb r inte attan inte r imponerad ver de jobb och den envishet och styrka som dessa kvinnor hade, bara besviken att de oftast blev bortgl mda i historieskrivningen Till och med f rfattaren s ger att han fr n b rjan bara t nkte skriva om sj lva historien bakom m tningen av [...]

    5. This book does not have great ratings It gave me pause before I began reading Some of the criticisms are not unfounded However, the most common complaint lack of information about Henrietta Leavitt This being a semi biography, people were not happy But, I must confess, I became confused when I started reading this book, because the author, within the first paragraph, states that Henrietta deserves a proper biography The very first line impresses upon me that the following will not be a detailed [...]

    6. I read this as research for a work in progress involving astronomy I wanted to like this book , but it felt sketched in than I d hoped Some of that is naturally due to the lack of historical data we have on Henrietta Leavitt, but it made for a less than perfectly satisfying read Of course, my standards have been jacked up by The 4 Percent Universe Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality.

    7. Unfortunately, Henrietta Swan Leavitt s story remains untold, for reasons the author himself notes there are few sources to consult Thus, Johnson has written not a book about Henrietta Levitt, the discoverer of the astronomical period luminosity relationship but, indeed, one about her stars Not biographical except in the sense of describing the context of her life, this slim volume cannot accomplish what I take to have been Johnson s goal, to lift this woman of science out of the footnotes of th [...]

    8. A relatively short but fascinating, even poignant, account of Henrietta Swan Leavitt s astronomical work as a computer at the Harvard Observatory in the late 1800s and early 1900s Her diligent and accurate work on the brightness of stars, especially Cepheid variables, led to her brilliant insight into the relationship between period and luminosity This in turn gave astronomers the first reliable and accurate means to begin to measure distances to stars, the size of our galaxy the Milky Way , and [...]

    9. Informative read and written so that one could easily understand the astronomical concepts and theories presented I chose to read it based on seeing the play SILENT SKY by Lauren Gunderson which really intrigued me to learn about Henrietta Leavitt Even though I understood this book would not provide many details about her life, she was woven in throughout the history of astronomy around the time she worked and how her findings helped pave the way for future discoveries.

    10. Far less the untold story of Henrietta Leavitt than a layman s introduction to how astronomical measurements evolved in the 20th century particularly As much as there is to know about Leavitt may be in here, as well as clarifications of what Google will tell you, but read it for the wonderfully approachable explanations of the science.

    11. This is a gorgeous book and as a female physicist myself, I enjoyed reading about what was being discovered and worked on at the time Henrietta seems a fascinating woman, although not too much is known of her A lovely book for someone with a very keen passion and knowledge for physics Probably wouldn t bother if you don t know much about it however.

    12. I had hoped this book would be interesting and about her, but unfortunately she took a supporting role in her own biography

    13. A non technical, short book on the major contributions of Henrietta Leavitt, computer Astronomer A short history of major astronomical discoveries of the early 20th century Fascinating.

    14. Lately, only books on science reach me It started by watching NOVA specials and TED talks about the astonishing and the boundless I was already an awed astronomy student in 1990 but as it turns out our universe has expanded wildly in just 20 years.Early in 2012 I memorized recorded facts to help me contend with the situation our galaxy has 100 billion stars Our universe has 100 billion galaxies It is 13.7 billion years old In comparison, I am just 39 years old It is the day to mark my 39th perso [...]

    15. Johnson tells the fascinating story of the debate among astronomers about how big the universe is, and how we should measure it It turns out that a cornerstone of most modern thought about how we can measure the distance between stars and galaxies uses a principle discovered by an astronomer at the Harvard Observatory, Henrietta Swan Leavitt.Leavitt worked at the observatory as a computer, first, then later organizing projects and managing other computers Tasked with the tedious job of catalogin [...]

    16. I mostly liked this, but felt a little cheated in that it wasn t really about Miss Leavitt There exists very little biographical information about her, apparently It felt a little like the author wanted a story to inspire girls about a woman scientist She Miss Leavitt did, apparently, first notice that some variable stars had a period proportiohal to its brightness And that helped to estimate the size of the universe In the early 20th century, a lot was going on in that area of astronomy, and th [...]

    17. Technically, this book is pretty accurate There are only a few minor errors or omissions presumably to maintain simplicity For example, on page 17 he mistakenly refers to the Pleiades as a constellation Later on page 111 he correctly refers to the 7 Sisters as an open star cluster You don t learn much about Henrietta Leavitt as a person in this well written book due to the dearth of archival materials concerning her life What you do learn is the great importance of her discovery of the period lu [...]

    18. Several readers have commented in disappointment about the lack of information about Leavitt This book s title gives its true subject the author included as much about Leavitt as is available in the records not much, but what there is, is fascinating but focused much intently on Leavitt s discovery of the period luminosity relationship and how it fit into the canon of astronomy, specifically in providing a kind of measuring stick to calculate distance to stars too far away to triangulate Her di [...]

    19. Pi che una storia su Miss Leavitt che fu praticamente un fantasma uno scritto sull evoluzione dell astronomia, in particolare la misurazione delle distanze delle stelle Henrietta Leavitt era molto scrupolosa nel suo lavoro che consisteva nel misurare la luminosit delle stelle da lastre fotografiche e scopr delle variabili ricorrenti, che diventarono la sua ossessione In base a questa scoperta di fatto erano stelle in una costellazione e orbitavano, cambiando la luminosit nel corso degli anni , g [...]

    20. Thank you NPR for the interview that spurred me, an astronomical non starter, to read about Miss Leavitt s Stars In the early 1900 s Harvard paid computers 25 cents an hour to study glass slide plates from their South American observatory Miss Leavitt had graduated from Radcliffe, unusual for a woman in the early 1900 s to attend college, and was one of the computers The computations took place over years and her boss at Harvard seemed quite tolerant of Miss Leavitt s long absences She stumbled [...]

    21. I really enjoyed this A quick read, interesting, entertaining, and Johnson did a good job of striking a balance between telling the story of Miss Leavitt such as he was able to and telling the story of the astronomy of the time The science was basic enough to be easily understood, but not so as to be boring, and Johnson managed to tell a lot about a woman who left little behind about herself, without resorting to assumptions that would have been basically fictions The other thing this book did w [...]

    22. 3.5 stars would have been my choice This is a worthwhile read since Leavitt is one of the unsung heroines of astronomy She was a computer , someone who scanned photoplates of portions of the night sky to look for variable stars and other anomalies, categorizing everything by brightness along the way Tedious, but important work, and Leavitt made a discovery about the periodicity of variable stars that ultimately let those who were given the salaried time to cogitate on such matters estimate the s [...]

    23. Henrietta Leavitt was a human computer in the early 20th Century, back when that term referred to someone who did mathematical computations Miss Leavitt was one of several women who worked at Harvard, measuring star brightnesses on stacks of large glass photographic plates This slim book descibes how, through careful analysis she found a class of variable stars that form a vital link in measuring distances to stars and other galaxies This enormously valuable measuring stick finally allowed astro [...]

    24. Well that was kind of depressing Henrietta Swan Leavitt did grunt work in the 1890 s at Harvard, counting stars as a computer She figured out that for a star that changes its brightness , the length of time between the period of change has a correlation to the star s brightness So she pretty much decoded the rhythm of the stars Male ha scientists took this information figured out how to measure distances in the Universe Most notably, a scientist named Edwin Hubble.But does anyone know about her [...]

    25. I always like to read about people who have accomplished something noteworthy and inspiring, especially women From this slim biography I learned something about astronomy and a little known figure in the scientific world Not much is known about Henrietta Leavitt, but because of her we can measure distances in space In spite of health problems she persisted in her work of documenting the positions and luminosity of stars In the process she uncovered the formula that allows scientists to measure t [...]

    26. Henrietta Leavitt did important work in the early twentieth century in developing a distance scale for astronomy, based on stars whose intensity varietd in a predictable manner Her position at the Harvard Observatory was a poorly paid one she was a computer, which at the time was a job description for someone who did the mathematics needed in astronomy The author indefatigably tracked down what little information there is about Henrietta Leavitt s life work at Harvard Observertory, including fin [...]

    27. A little known story about the woman who figured out how to measure the distance to stars in the universe I finished the book, and am still not sure I understand the physics and math behind this discovery About half way through the book, the author began talking over my head But I stuck it out, and picked up a few nuggets of information, especially one about why some stars have a reddish tinge, and some stars have a bluish tinge you know, the red giants and blue giants You ll have to read the bo [...]

    28. Miss Leavitt left little of herself behind in the world, so this is less biography than the story of the consequences of her life s work And they are significant Thanks to her discovery of the relationship between the period and luminosity of variable stars called Cepheids, later astronomers were able to take the measure of the universe That knowledge helped us to understand that the visible universe is far vast than we imagined at the start of the 20th century.

    29. This is a short, nearly bare bones story as she left little behind that speaks of her structured around Henrietta Swan Leavitt s work that gives an amazing glimpse into the growth of astronomy While the most well documented players were men, the author still manages to keep bringing it back to Henrietta Swan Leavitt and other women who weren t just involved but instrumental in the advances made at a time when it was pretty much unheard of for women to be scientists.

    30. Does not do what it says on the tin More a history of astronomical measurement techniques than a biography The author goes to great lengths to explain why so little information is available about Henrietta Leavitt, however, and the rest of the material is far too dense to feel like filler Short Good Read it if you dig space.

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