Stellar atmospheres by Cecilia H. Payne
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin Lecture: Reading Physics From Stellar Spectra
Astronomer Cecilia Payne’s ‘Impossible’ Theory About the Stars
Payne entered the University of Cambridge in Eddington encouraged her ambition, but she felt there were more opportunities for a woman to work in astronomy in the United States than in Britain. It was believed that this sequence corresponded to the surface temperature of the stars, with O being the hottest and M the coolest. In her Ph. Payne also determined that stars are composed mostly of hydrogen and helium.
STELLAR ATMOSPHERES (CECILIA H. PAYNE). P. W. Merrill. © The Astronomical Society of the Pacific. All rights reserved. Printed in U.S.A.
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“The most brilliant PhD thesis ever”
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Astronomers recently used large radio telescopes in Germany and Australia to map the distribution of hydrogen gas throughout our galaxy, the Milky Way. Although all astronomers now recognize hydrogen as the most abundant element in space and the main component of stars and galaxies, that fact was slow to dawn. In , when astronomy student Cecilia Payne discovered that stars consisted mostly of hydrogen, the idea seemed ludicrous. Miss Payne herself struggled to believe it, yet the results of her studies surely pointed that way. Her mentor at the Harvard College Observatory urged caution. On her behalf, he sent her draft report to the foremost authority on stellar composition — to Henry Norris Russell of Princeton University. Although the presence of hydrogen in the sun and other stars had been known since the s, when chemical analysis at a distance first became possible, no one expected the great abundance of hydrogen claimed by Miss Payne.