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Episode 15: “Census Taker of the Sky” with Quigley and Alex Goode

podcast Aug 16, 2021

Sharon is joined by Quigley and Alex Goode, professional content creators and founders of Soulcial Media, to learn about a legend in astronomy, Annie Jump Cannon. Born on the eve of the women’s suffrage movement, Annie Jump Cannon was an American astronomer and pioneer of star classification who acquired a college education and made a career for herself in a society that discouraged both of which. Known as the “Census Taker of the Sky,” Annie is most well-known for developing a star cataloging and classification system that astronomers still use today, known as the Harvard spectral classification system. Born and raised in Delaware, today Annie is considered Delaware’s contribution to American innovation, she has been inducted into the Royal Astronomical Society, and the asteroid 1120 Cannonia is named in her honor. Annie Jump Cannon is an example of what can happen when your gifts and passions align.

3 Biggest Takeaways:

  • Annie Jump Cannon was introduced to astronomy very early on in life, at the hands of her progressive mother who taught her how to identify consultations and encouraged her to pursue a college education. Unlike many women of her generation, Annie received a degree in physics from Wesley College in 1880. A bout with Scarlet Fever left Annie partially deaf but did not impede her ability to pursue a career in astronomy, and she went on to work as a physics instructor at Wesley University under her former professor.
  • As an astronomer, Annie Jump Cannon developed a passion for spectroscopy, the precise study of color of the visible light spectrum. In order to study spectroscopy, she needed access to the Harvard College observatory, which housed the best telescope in America, but at the time, women were not admitted. The director of the observatory,  Edward Charles Pickering, saw Annie’s potential, however, and she was selected as one of “Pickering’s Harem,” an elite group of women scientists hired to work on the Henry Draper Catalog, with a mission to catalog every star in the sky. It was here that Annie’s legacy was paved as she pioneered the star classification system still in use today. 
  • While she was stripped of the recognition she deserved in her lifetime due to her gender, Annie Jump Cannon was a world-class astronomer. During her career, Annie classified over 350,000 stars, became the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate degree, helped astronomers to understand that stars are made up primarily of helium and hydrogen, and became instrumental in developing the formula to calculate how far away from earth a star is. In 1929, the League of Women Voters deemed Annie as the greatest living American woman.

Link to Full Episode:

About the Guest:

Quigley and Alex Goode, professional content creators and founders of Soulcial Media, an educational resource designed to provide the mental and logistical support needed to thrive in the world of content creation. Quigley and Alex Goode are married, reside in Los Angeles, and have one adorable son.

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