Payne-Gaposchkin, Cecilia

Payne-Gaposchkin, Cecilia, 1900–1979, British-American astronomer, b. Wendover, England, as Cecilia Helena Payne. She studied at Cambridge and at the Harvard College Observatory, and in her doctoral thesis analyzed stellar spectra on the basis of the work of Indian physicist Meghnad Saha and showed that different stars were similarly composed, their spectra differing as a result of their different surface temperatures. She also was the first to determine that stars were composed mainly of hydrogen and helium, a conclusion she qualified after it was criticized by Henry Norris Russell, who later proved the same conclusion by a different method. Awarded, by Radcliffe, Harvard's first astronomy doctorate, she subsequently taught at Harvard but was denied a professorship until 1956 (emeritus from 1966), when she also became the first woman to serve as a Harvard department head. In her later work, she studied variable stars. She became a U.S. citizen in 1931 and married Russian émigré astronomer Sergei Gaposchkin, whom she helped immigrate from Nazi Germany, in 1934.

See her autobiography and other recollections (1984, ed. by K. Haramundanis).

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