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Harlow Shapley November 1885 - October 1972 Major Discovery: Milky Way Galaxy exponentially larger than previously believed Focus on globular clusters : gigantic spheroidal agglomerations of stars that orbit the Milky Way

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Presentation Transcript
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Harlow Shapley

November 1885 - October 1972

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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

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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.
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“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

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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.

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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
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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