Annie and the Stars of Many Colors

A Portrait of Astronomer Annie Jump Cannon, 1864-1941

In this video, a multicultural group of a dozen sixth-grade students visit the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to explore the childhood and career of a famous astronomer whose life spanned the period between the Civil War and World War II. One of the United States' pioneering women astronomers, Annie Jump Cannon is noted for her work classifying the spectra of over 425,000 stars, using a system that she developed at the Harvard College Observatory in the early 1900's. Published as the Henry Draper Catalog, Annie's work is used and valued today by astronomers all over the world.

While growing up in Dover, Delaware, Annie enjoyed stargazing and studying her mother's star atlas. She delighted in observing how the crystal pendants on a candelabrum broke sunlight into colorful rainbow patterns. The students in the video program learn about these and other aspects of Annie's life and career through the guidance of historian Barbara Welther. Together, they examine Annie's scrapbooks, memorabilia, and photographs at the Harvard University Archives - dating all the way back to Annie's childhood in the 1860's.

Other scenes in the video show the students learning about spectra with astrophysicist Robert Noyes at a rooftop observatory and meeting astronomer Martha Hazen, who takes them on a tour of the HCO astronomical plate library. They examine Annie's record books and observations, and see for themselves the original glass plates that Miss Cannon used in her studies. Finally, the students visit astrophysicist Sallie Baliunas, who demonstrates how she uses the Henry Draper Catalog - now on computer - in her continuing research on stellar evolution.

The video focuses on the students active engagement in hands-on scientific and historical investigations, attempting to find answers to questions they have generated in the course of their research. The video program can be used in middle school science classrooms, in teacher workshops about student use of original historical sources, and as part of discussions to encourage young women to consider science careers.

Funded in part by the Smithsonian Women's Committee and the Science Media Group, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, under the direction of Dr. Matthew H. Schneps.

Written and narrated by Barbara Welther. Produced and directed by Alex Griswold. Associate producer: Caroline Lupfer. Sound: Coll Anderson. Music by Felix Mendelssohn, arranged and performed by Mark Steven Brooks. Executive producers: Dr. Matthew H. Schneps and Barbara Welther.

Running time: 25 minutes.

For information about obtaining this video, please contact: jcornell@cfa.harvard.edu