Happy Birthday ….


Henrietta Swan Leavitt

You were born on this day in 1868, in Lancaster, Massachuetts. You figured out how to use Cepheids with the ultimate result of understanding the size and, in the end, the fundemental nature of the Cosmos. The Big Bang theory is based in part on your contributions to Astronomy.

As a woman working in Astronomy in the early days of that science, nothing important will ever be named after you. Sure, there’s an asteroid named after you, but for chrissakes, PZ Myers has an asteroid named after him. Sure, there’s a crater on the Moon named after you, but I filled out one of those forms and got a crater on (the other side of) the Moon named after my daugther. Big whoop.

But there is a book about you that’s pretty good: Miss Leavitt’s Stars: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Discovered How to Measure the Universe (Great Discoveries)

Also, your work is nicely contextualized in Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe (P.S.) by Singh. Highly recommended.


  1. #1 maudyfish
    July 4, 2008

    It “IS” a big whoop!! And here are a few others you and add to The Big Whoop…..Jill Tarter, Wendy Freeman, Carolyn Proco, Heidy Hammel, Margerete Meixner. They are just a few of the people who have made names for themselves in astronomy. Just the fact that your daughter has a crater on the moon name after her is a big whoop too……

    Women have come a loooong way baby!!!!!!!

  2. #2 Wellington
    July 4, 2008

    We hear so much complaining about women in science (lack of, lack of opportunity) would we not be well served by recognizing a woman like this more openly and clearly?

  3. #3 Zeno
    July 5, 2008

    The moon crater named after Leavitt is officially named, isn’t it? I’m guessing your daughter’s crater is one of those unofficial things like the International Star Registry, which will pretend to name a star after you if you pay the fee. It’s fun, I suppose, as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

    Thanks for the tip about the books that recognize Leavitt’s contributions.

  4. #4 IBY
    July 6, 2008

    Incidentally, I was reading about her in Coming of Age in the Milky Way. From what I read, she was checking hundreds (or thousands?) of photographic plates or something when she figured it out.