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Dava Sobel: The Women Who Rocked the Cosmos

Dava Sobel argues that in the 19th century, it was women and not male astronomers who actually made some of the great discoveries of the universe. In the mid-19th century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or “human computers,” to interpret the observations made via telescope by their male counterparts each night. At the outset, this group included the wives, sisters and daughters of the resident astronomers, but by the 1880s the female corps included graduates of the new women's colleges—Vassar, Wellesley and Smith. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates. The “glass universe” of a half-million plates that Harvard amassed in this period—thanks in part to the early financial support of another woman, Anna Draper, whose late husband pioneered the technique of stellar photography—enabled the women to make extraordinary discoveries that attracted worldwide acclaim.

Come hear this captivating, little-known true story of a group of women whose remarkable contributions to the burgeoning field of astronomy forever changed our understanding of the stars and our place in the universe. Sobel is a noted author, and in addition to her work for The New York Times she has been a longtime science contributor to Harvard MagazineAudubonDiscoverLifeOmni, and The New Yorker.

Speakers
Image - Dava Sobel
Dava Sobel
Former Science Reporter, The New York Times; Author, The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars
Becky Worley
Tech Contributor, "Good Morning America"—Moderator