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Knox College Celebrates Early Female Astronomers


This past weekend Knox College celebrated early female astronomers with the play Silent Sky, and an opportunity for the community to use the observatory.

Junior Mei Zuch, sophomore Alexis Sendall, and first-year Elizabeth Menges starred in the show as three of the early 20th century’s most important astronomers, Henrietta Leavitt, Williamina Flemming, and Annie Cannon.

Saturday night’s show was followed by a session at the Knox Observatory led by Associate Professor of Physics Nathalie Haurberg, assisted by several Knox Physics students. Images from the large telescope were shown on screens so all could see.

Silent Sky follows the life and work of Henrietta Leavitt. She cataloged a special kind of star called Cepheid variables, which pulse regularly. Leavitt discovered that the period of the pulses was directly correlated to the actual brightness of the star.

Later astronomers, like Edwin Hubble – the namesake of the Hubble telescope – used this to compare perceived brightness to actual brightness, enabling him to calculate distances from Earth to stars.

Attendees were given the chance to see one of the Cepheids Leavitt cataloged in the Knox Observatory, as well as other celestial bodies, including the Andromeda galaxy and Saturn.

Silent Sky ran from Nov. 2 through Nov. 4.

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