Miss Leavitt's Stars: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Discovered How to Measure the Universe (Great Discoveries Series)by George Johnson
Pub. Date: 06/17/2005
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
"Nearly a century ago, in a cramped room at the Harvard Observatory, a brilliant woman, now almost forgotten, found the key to the vastness of the universe." "Her name was Henrietta Swan Leavitt, and in the days when women were barred from scientific careers she was what was known as a "computer" - a human number cruncher, hired to calculate the positions and… See more details below
"Nearly a century ago, in a cramped room at the Harvard Observatory, a brilliant woman, now almost forgotten, found the key to the vastness of the universe." "Her name was Henrietta Swan Leavitt, and in the days when women were barred from scientific careers she was what was known as a "computer" - a human number cruncher, hired to calculate the positions and luminosities of stars in astronomical photographs. Fighting ill health and progressive hearing loss, straining over nearly indistinguishable specks on photographic plates, she discovered a new law, one that would transform the field of cosmology." "Because of Leavitt's discovery, astronomers could use a kind of star known as a "variable" - one whose brightness waxes and wanes in a regular cycle - as a cosmic yardstick. Her law was immediately enlisted to settle a question that was then dividing astronomers: how big is the universe? One side argued that the Milky Way galaxy was the extent of the universe. Using Leavitt's law, however, the legendary astronomer Edwin Hubble was able to prove that there were stars - indeed, whole galaxies - beyond the Milky Way, and that the universe, as we know now, is almost unfathomably large." George Johnson contrasts the magnitude of Leavitt's discovery to the quiet near-obscurity of her short life. Miss Leavitt's Stars is both an account of how we measure the universe and the story of a neglected genius.
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Her colleagues never clouded the purpose in praising her for how valuable she was, perhaps she never knew it or cared, but her calculations where irreplaceable....All too often womens contributions are completely neglected, denied and purposely obscured. Johnson does every budding female math student a huge favor by bringing Ms. Leavitt to our attention. Not only in the areas of math and science but area of womens history, this little book has inspiration, purpose and basis for re-thinking the gender role in terms of accomplishment. Highly recommend it.
For an independent reading assignment in my science class, I chose to read Miss Leavitt's Stars. We did a unit about space and astronomy, so I chose this book. I would recommend it to anyone mature enough to understand the serious notes in this novel or to anyone who is an avid reader about astronomy. This book was a biography written by the talented George Johnson, an award-winning science reporter for the New York Times. The idea for Miss Leavitt's Stars started when the author wanted to learn about how people learned that there was more to the universe than just the Milky Way Galaxy. He never planned to write a full biography about Henrietta Leavitt, but eventually, he decided to, after he "couldn't get [her] out of [his] mind." The book mainly focuses on Henrietta Swan Leavitt's life and works, but also includes other astronomers and important figures like Edward Pickering, Harlow Shapley, and Edwin Hubble. Miss Leavitt's Stars finally credited Henrietta Leavitt on her work with astronomy clearly. She's done so much to the astronomical field by figuring out how to measure the distance between galaxies using Cepheids. Without her, Edwin Hubble and Harlow Shapley probably wouldn't have been able to make their own discoveries. This biography really brings light to her "till-now obscured brilliance." In greater detail, Miss Leavitt's Stars is a page-by-page account of Henrietta Leavitt's life and major discoveries. As stated above, George Johnson also devotes some of the novel to Harlow Shapley and Edwin Hubble, but it's mostly how Miss Leavitt influenced Mr. Shapley and Mr. Hubble's own discoveries. After reading this novel, I know much more about astronomy and Henrietta Swan Leavitt's important discoveries in the field. That is why I recommend it. I've learned about the tiny things, like her family and life before becoming a "computer" at Harvard University, but her major discovery of the distance between galaxies as well. With Henrietta's Law, we can now measure great distances in the universe. My personal opinion of this book is that it is a lovely informative novel. George Johnson did a great job with that. However, it is slightly boring as it pulls out all those amazing big words that I don't understand and such. The dull parts are made up for, however, by the way Mr. Johnson makes Miss Leavitt seem so important, perhaps more important than Edwin Hubble and Harlow Shapley. Her credit, though a hundred years late, has finally brimmed through. When Henrietta Leavitt made her discovery, the fact that she was a girl tainted the magnitude of her findings. She did not get the credit she deserved at the time. Even now, we are only starting to recognize the importance of her discovery. Miss Leavitt influenced many other astronomers with her law. Without her figuring out how to measure the distance between galaxies, we probably wouldn't know until much later. By then, Edwin Hubble would probably be dead; there'd be no Hubble Telescope, et cetera. So Henrietta Leavitt's discovery was, suffice to say, a great one. With Henrietta's Law, Edwin Hubble was able to prove that there were whole galaxies beyond the Milky Way, and the universe is larger than a human mind could possibly imagine. Miss Leavitt's Stars is a great book overall. I was fascinated by her discovery and it's importance. I never fathomed how vast the universe was. People young and old should devote some of their time to reading this biography.