Harlow Shapley November 1885 - October 1972
Major Discovery: Milky Way Galaxy exponentially larger than previously believed • Focus on globularclusters: • gigantic spheroidal agglomerations of stars that orbit the Milky Way Before, the Milky Way was believed to have a diameter of 15 - 20,000 light years Now, Shapley concluded that its diameter was, in fact, nearly 300,000 light years with the Sun located near the edge
Error: although the Milky Way is much larger than anyone imagined, his estimate of its diameter was too large by an approximate factor of 3. • As a result, his belief that the Milky Way was so enormous that the spiral nebulae must be mere satellites around it, spiral counterparts of the globular…was false.
“The Great Debate” Date: April 26th, 1920 Players: Heber D. Curtis vs. Harlow Shapley Location: National Academy of Sciences in Washington Controversy: the nature of spiral nebulae and galaxies; the size of the universe Shapley (left) : Sun not at center of Galaxy Globular clusters and spiral nebulae are within the Milky Way Curtis (right) : Sun near the center of our Galaxy Belief in ‘external universes’ or the island universe hypothesis
Shortly after the famed Debate, Harlow Shapley has the opportunity to replace Edward Charles Pickering as director of Harvard College Observatory. He works there from 1921 - 1952. During this part of his career, he hires Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin -- a woman who holds the distinguished honor of being the first person to earn a doctorate at Harvard University in the field of Astronomy.
Recognition & Awards • - Henry Draper Medal (1926) • - Gold Medal of Royal Astronomical Society (1934) • - Bruce Medal (1939) • Henry Norris Russel Lectureship (1950) • - Shapley Crater on the moon • - Asteroid 1123 Shapleya • - Harlow Shapley Visiting Lectureships in Astronomy • - American Astronomical Society
Harlow Shapley’s Fun Facts • Shapley’s famed interest: myrmecology (otherwise known as the study of ants) • Grandfather to Tracey Shapley, a best-selling author and to Christopher Shapley, a Pulitzer Prize Winning Accountant