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Her stargazing enriched us all

Annie Jump Cannon against starry background

The second volume of my Delaware history series will hardly be complete without a nod to Dover’s most famous daughter.

At the time of her death in 1941 Dr. Annie Jump Cannon had classified—by their spectra—more stars than anyone in the world.

Even as a child growing up in Dover, the future world famous astronomer was fascinated by the night sky, peering at it through her attic window, and jotting her observations in a notebook, by candlelight.

Cannon, who was legally deaf, graduated valedictorian from Wilmington Conference Academy, now Wesley College, in 1880. She continued her studies at Wellesley College and later Radcliffe Women’s College at Harvard.

At Radcliffe she studied under Edward C. Pickering, director of the Harvard College Observatory. Pickering hired her for the observatory, where she stayed 44 years. There she joined, and later took over, Pickering’s project to catalog stars, starting in 1885.

Exterior of Annie Jump Cannon's childhood home in Dover, De
Annie Jump Cannon’s childhood home in Dover, DE.

Dr. Cannon recorded 400,000 stellar bodies, and discovered 300+ variable stars, five novae and one double star. Her findings were published in 9 volumes, in the Henry Draper catalog, released to the astronomy community for international use. The National Academy of Sciences awarded her for this achievement in 1931.

Dr. Annie Jump Cannon was the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from Oxford, and the first woman elected an officer of the American Astronomical Society.

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