Payne-Gaposchkin, Cecilia

Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin at her desk at HCOCecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin was a British–American astronomer associated with the Harvard Computers, a group of female astronomers and analysts at Harvard College Observatory (HCO). She discovered the chemical composition of stars and, in particular, that hydrogen and helium are the most abundant elements in stars. From star spectra, she determined stellar temperatures and chemical abundances using the thermal ionization equations of Meghnad Saha. Her work was of fundamental importance in the development of the field of stellar atmospheres, and her observations and analyses of variable stars laid the foundation for their use as indicators of galactic structure.

Read on for stories about Cecilia's life, work process, and contributions to science!

Also see these resources for more about Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin:

  • Boyd, Sylvia. Portrait of a Binary : The Lives of Cecilia Payne and Sergei Gaposchkin. Penobscot Press, 2014.
  • Gaposchkin, Cecilia Helena Payne. "The Dyer's Hand" in Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: An Autobiography and Other Recollections. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire] ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984
  • McGrath, Alex. “Cecilia and Sergei: American Astronomers.” Galactic Gazette, February 9, 2018.
  • Sobel, Dava. The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars. New York, New York: Viking, 2016.