Deaf astronomer Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941) combined her love of photography, star gazing, mathematics, and top notch organizational skills to become one of America’s most influential astronomers.
After studying astronomy and mathematics at Wellesley college, she continued her education at Radcliff, the women’s division of Harvard University before it became co-ed. Edward C. Pickering, director of the Harvard College Observatory, hired Cannon to be part of an all women astronomy team known as “Pickering’s Women”. The women in this group, also known as “computers”, were tasked with the monumental project of identifying and classifying all the visible stars. The team included other female astronomers such as Williamina P.S. Fleming and Antonia Maury. Building on the work of Fleming, Cannon created an elegant and simple classification of stars according to temperature. Her co-worker Henriette Swan Leavitt discovered that stars with similar temperatures also had similar colors.
By examining images on photographic plates, Cannon was able to classify stars with remarkable speed and accuracy. Between the years 1911-1915 she classified over 5,000 stars a month. She also discovered 300 variable stars and 5 novas. A strong believer in women’s rights, she was a member of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and supported the women’s suffrage movement. Cannon went on to receive 6 honorary degrees including one from Oxford. (She was the first American woman to do so.) She was the first woman to become an officer in the American Astronomical Society and also the first woman to receive the Henry Draper Goal Medal, a prestigious award in the field of astronomical physics. In 1932 she won the Ellen Richards research prize and used the money to create the Annie Jump Cannon Award given to women in the field of astronomy.
She is honored on the back of the $1 coin representing the state of Delaware which was minted in 2019.