Cosmos #8

This episode describes the work of Edward Charles Pickering to capture the spectra of multiple stars simultaneously, and the work of the Harvard Computers, a team of women researchers under Pickering’s mentorship, to catalog the spectra.

This team included Annie Jump Cannon, who developed the stellar classification system, and Henriette Swan Leavitt
who discovered the means to measure the distance from a star to the earth by its spectra, later used to identify other galaxies in the universe.

Annie Jump Cannon
Henriette Swan Leavitt


Later, this team included Cecilia Payne, who would develop a good friendship with Cannon. Payne’s thesis based on her work with Cannon was able to determine the composition and temperature of the stars, collaborating with Cannon’s classification system.

Tyson describes that stars can only be so large, using the example of Eta Carinae which is considered an unstable solar mass that could become a hypernova in the relatively near future.

Eta Carinae