How human “computers” Annie Jump Cannon and Henrietta Swan Leavitt revolutionized astronomy

In the early 20th century, a team of “human computers” – women tasked with the grueling work of manually processing astronomical data – went far beyond their job descriptions, not to mention the social norms of the time, to revolutionize the ‘astronomy.

The technological developments of the late 1800s were both a blessing and a curse for astronomy. The invention of photography created an entirely new way of taking astronomical images. Astronomers were no longer tied to the eyepieces of their telescopes, forced to make sketches and diagrams of what they saw. Now a small team of astronomers could spend night after night simply collecting as many images as possible and save all the cataloging and studying for later. Also, photography is permitted telescopes to capture much fainter stars, far beyond what the human eye could perceive, allowing astronomers to obtain an unprecedented number of stars stars.

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