Girls only: the Annie Jump Cannon Award in Astronomy

Annie Jump Cannon Award is for female astronomers only

There are over fifty different prizes awarded in the field of Astronomy nationally and internationally. There are prizes for the achievements in a specific field of Astronomy, prizes for the outreach efforts, prizes for the best single piece of work and for the lifetime contribution. And, most interestingly, there is a prize that the American Astronomical Society awards to the young female astronomers, the Annie Jump Cannon Award! In order to win the prize you have to do an outstanding research, reside in North America and receive your PhD within the last 5 years. And, of course, you have to be a girl!

Annie Jump Cannon

These days astronomers rely on computers to proceed the vast volume of the observational data. But just a century ago all that work was done manually. Harvard observatory was one of the first to adopt the practice of hiring women to perform calculations and data analysis. And why not? Women were paid much less than men. Sometimes they even worked for free just to get a chance to work in academia.

One of the most famous female astronomers who worked as “Harvard computer” was Annie Jump Cannon. Most of us know her work, but have no idea who to credit for it.

Remember the “Oh, be a fine girl, kiss me!” from your high school astronomy course? That’s it! No, she did not invent the mnemonic (you can find some alternative mnemonics here if you don’t like the classic one). Annie Jump Cannon created the Harvard spectral classification of stars that we still use today. Though with a few modifications. Starting from 1896 she has been working on the Draper Star Catalogue. Her job was to classify and catalogue the stars by studying the photographs of the stars spectra.  As there was no universally agreed on way to classify the stars, she suggested dividing stars into seven classes O, B, A, F ,G, K and M depending on their surface temperature.

Harvard spectral classification

According to her classification, the hottest blue stars belong to class O. They have surface temperatures over 30.000K. The coolest red stars belong to class M. They have surface temperatures around 3000K.  In the modified modern version of this classification each class is further divided into ten sub-classes 0 to 9, with 0 being the hottest and 9 the coolest. For example, Our Sun, is a G2 star. A few extra classes are added to account for red and brown dwarfs, carbon stars etc. 

Annie Jump Cannon catalogued hundreds of thousands of stars and discovered many variable stars.

She even established an award to recognize the achievements of young female astronomers. Annie Jump Cannon award in Astronomy has been given ever since to a postgraduate researcher “ for outstanding research and promise for future research”.

Annie Jump Cannon Award 2018

This year’s Annie Jump Cannon Award winner is Lauren Ilsedore Cleeves of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Ilse Cleeves received the prize for her work on the protoplanetary disks and planet formation. Space enthusiasts know her for her work on the origin of water in the Solar System. In the paper that Cleeves and her coauthors published in 2014 the scientists claim that up to a half of the water in the Solar System might have formed a billion of years before the birth of the Solar System! Is the water you drink older than the Sun?

Still Curious?

  • To learn more about Astronomy awards, read our blog posts

            Nobel Prize in Astronomy Part 1

            Nobel Prize in Astronomy Part 2

            Women in Astronomy