Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin
(1900-1979)

 

English-born US astronomer who studied stellar evolution and galactic structure. Her investigation of stellar atmospheres during the 1920s gave some of the first indications of the overwhelming abundance of the lightest elements (hydrogen and helium) in the Galaxy.
Payne was born in Wendover, Buckinghamshire, and studied at Cambridge and at Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, under US astronomer Harlow Shapley. In 1927 she was appointed an astronomer at the observatory, and in 1956 she became the first woman professor at Harvard.
Payne-Gaposchkin employed a variety of spectroscopic techniques in the investigation of stellar properties and composition, especially variable stars. Her studies of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds were carried out in collaboration with her husband Sergei I Gaposchkin.
Other areas of her interest included the devising of methods to determine stellar magnitudes, the position of variable stars on the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, and novae.

 


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