Today we introduce you to another astronomer that worked as a computer at the Harvard College Observatory, Antonia Maury. Growing up in a home that valued scientific endeavors, by the time she arrived at Vassar she was well suited to the academic environment. She concentrated on courses in physics, astronomy, and philosophy and was a speaker at her 1887 commencement.
When hired, she was tasked with determining the orbits of a spectroscopic binary system. These star systems are unique as to the naked eye. The two stars cannot be distinguished and it is only through stellar spectroscopy the information needed for the calculations could be obtained. During her study of the Zeta Ursae Majoris system she also discovered a second binary system, Beta Aurigae and was able to calculate the orbits and periods of both systems.
Due to the climate at the lab at this time she was given little credit in the publications of these findings which led to conflict with the lab director. Another conflict in the lab arose when a colleague, Annie Cannon, developed a classification system for stars based on the absence and presence of spectral lines photographed. Maury wanted to modify the system to include notation of the strength of the lines present denoting when lines are normal, hazy, and sharp or a combination. Her colleagues found the system cumbersome and with this final blow Maury left Harvard in 1892.
Other astronomers saw the great potential in her system and began incorporating it into their work and in 1922 the International Astronomical Union modified the Cannon system to include the prefix –c to certain spectral line types that Maury had classified as sharp.
She continued her research on and off at the Harvard Observatory for many years including creating her own catalogue of over 600 stars that was published in volume 28 of the Harvard Annals in 1897, which was the first issue that included the name of a woman on the title page.
Written by Angela Goad