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Annie Jump Cannon was born on December 11, 1863, in Dover, Delaware. Her mother, Mary Jump, taught Annie constellations at a young age and in a ignited her interest in the stars. She was the eldest daughter of Wilson Cannon, a Delaware state senator, and Mary Jump. She studied physics and astronomy at Wellesley College, graduating in 1884. For several years thereafter she traveled and dabbled in photography and music. In 1894 she returned to Wellesley for a year of advanced study in astronomy, and in 1895 she enrolled at Radcliffe in order to continue her studies under Edward C Pickering, who was the director of Harvard College Observatory.
In 1896 Cannon was named an assistant at the Harvard Observatory, becoming one of a group known as “Pickering’s Women.” JThere, joining Williamina P.S. Pleming and Antonia Maury, she devoted her energies to Pickering’s ambitious project begun in 1885, of recording, classifying, and cataloging the spectra of all stars down to those of the ninth magnitude. Fleming had initially classified stellar spectra by all the letters of the alphabet from A to Q, mainly according to the strength of their hydrogen spectral lines. Maury created a new scheme with twenty-two groups from I to XXIl and other added three subdivisions based on the sharpness of the spectral lines. She also placed Fleming’s B stars before the A stars. In a catalog of 1,122 stars published in 1901, Annie drastically simplified Fleming’s scheme to the classes O, B, A, F, G, K, and M and she retained P for planetary nebula and Q for muscle stars. She also added numerical divisions, further dividing each class into ten10 steps from to nine9. It was soon realized that Annie’s scheme actually was classifying stars according to their temperate and her spectral classification was universally adopted. She eventually obtained and classified spectra for more than 225,00 stars. In 1911, Annie became the curator of astronomical photographs at Harvard Observatory. She worked at astounding efficiency and was able to classify up to three stars a minute. In the 1920s, Annie cataloged several hundred thousand stars to the 11th magnitude. She discovered 300 variable stars, in addition to five5 novae, a class of exploding stars. Annie received honorary degrees from the University of Delaware, Oglethorpe University, and Mount Holyoke College. She was the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1925. She received the Henry Draper Gold Medal of the National Academy of Sciences. Annie was also the first woman to hold an officer position in the American Astronomical Society.
The organization still awards the honor for her established, the Annie Jump Cannon Award. The prize is given to a distinguished women astronomer at the beginning of her career. She devoted her life to research and unwittingly broke down plenty of barriers, which is why it must be said that she left behind a rich legacy that is celebrated in the scientific circles to this day. Having suffered from scarlet fever in her youth, Annie had gone nearly deaf and that was the reason why she never got married (I’ll get a little more into that later though). She had established the Annie Jump Cannon award for outstanding female astronomers in North America, eight years prior to her death and the award is given away to this day. Part of the reason for her astronomical skill that she was near totally deaf. Although a nasty bout of scarlet fever permanently damaged her hearing in college, she used it to her advantage. The relative silence, she’d later say, allowed her to concentrate more fully on her work. While some biographers claim her hearing loss had a negative effect on her social life, It was only a temporary one. In later years, with the help of the powerful hearing aid, she held regular dinner parties at her house, an utterly charming villa she dubbed the Star Cottage.
Many write-ups of Annie mention the deafness upfront but since she didn’t let it define her, why should anyone else? As her career grew, she was still involved in the women’s suffrage movement and became an ambassador for professional women everywhere. She gave talks at the World’s Fair in Chicago and fought tooth and nail against the preconception of female astronomers as astrologers and horoscope readers. She never retired and kept working. 7 days a week, mostly for the criminally low rate of 25 cents an hour until she was 76. Near the end of her life, with World War 2 on the horizon, Annie summed up her worldview in one of her last interviews: “In these days of the great trouble and unrest, it is good to have something outside our own planet, something fine and distant and comforting to troubled minds. Let people look to the stars for comfort.” She led a solitary life and gave her life to astronomical research.
Annie Jump Cannon died on April 13, 1941, Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the age of 77. Annie Jump Cannon’s life doesn’t really relate to my life like at all. There is a lot of difference in our lives. She went through a lot and I’m still living my life as much as I possibly could.
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