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Henrietta Swan Leavitt

Born: 4-Jul-1868
Birthplace: Lancaster, MA
Died: 12-Dec-1921
Location of death: Cambridge, MA
Cause of death: Cancer - Stomach
Remains: Buried, Cambridge Cemetery, Cambridge, MA

Gender: Female
Religion: Congregationalist
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Astronomer

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Cepheid variable

Henrietta Swan Leavitt was an unpaid volunteer for five years, working for Edward Charles Pickering and Annie Jump Cannon at the Harvard College Observatory, before being offered 25 an hour to help quantify the visual magnitudes of stars. She discovered 1,777 variable stars in the Magellanic Clouds, and noticed that (in oversimplified terms) brighter stars twinkle slower, and dimmer stars twinkle faster. From this observation, she calculated the relationship between stars' luminosity and period of pulsation. Called the Cepheid variable, this established the cosmic yardstick that allowed Edwin Hubble and subsequent scientists to accurately determine the distance from Earth to other objects in the universe, and effectively revealed the enormousness of the universe. Beyond her numerous scientific reports, Leavitt left few clues to her life outside the observatory, but it is known that her health was rarely good and she was profoundly deaf.

Father: George Roswell Leavitt (Christian minister)
Mother: Henrietta Swan Kendrick Leavitt
Sister: Mira Leavitt
Brother: Roswell Leavitt

    University: Oberlin College (attended, 1885-88)
    University: BA, Radcliffe College (1892)
    Scholar: Harvard College Observatory, Harvard University (1895-1921)

    American Association for the Advancement of Science
    American Astronomical Society
    Asteroid Namesake 5383 Leavitt
    Lunar Crater Leavitt
    Risk Factors: Deafness


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