Written by Alana Hughes, Digital Marketing Intern.
#STEAMspotlight is a series highlighting past and present STEAM pioneers—the scientists, techies, engineers, artists and mathematicians who continue to inspire future generations.
Annie Jump Cannon was an American astronomer and a pioneer for women in science. She is best known for classifying thousands of stars and for the creation of a unique system of star classification that became the universal standard.
Annie Jump Cannon was born on December 11, 1863 in Dover, Delaware. Her interest in the stars began when her mother, Marie Jump, taught her about the constellations at an early age. Cannon went on to study physics and astronomy at Wellesley College where she graduated in 1884.
In 1896, Cannon received a job at Harvard Observatory where she was an assistant to the staff and worked under E.C. Pickering. Here she worked with a group of women, nicknamed “Pickering’s Women,” to document and classify stars.
Cannon quickly realized that the typical methods of start classification were not effective for her, leading to her creation of a brand-new, far more simplified system based on the stellar temperatures of stars. By combining two known classification models, Cannon created her own spectral division that has been utilized by astronomers for generations!
Cannon was known for her skill, diligence and efficiency and was able to classify up to three stars a minute! During her career, she classified more than 250,000 stars and discovered 300 variable stars, 5 novae and a class of exploding stars. Her work has been published in the nine volumes of the Henry Draper Catalogue.
Cannon was a trailblazer for women in science and received many awards and recognition for her work. She became the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford. She was also the first woman to become an officer in the American Astronomical Society. The society established the Annie J. Cannon Award in 1933, which is annually presented to a distinguished female astronomer.
Cannon’s work was incredibly valuable to the field of astronomy and her system is still being used by astronomers today.