Harlow Shapley

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Shapley, Harlow

(shăp`lē), 1885–1972, American astronomer, b. Nashville, Mo., grad. Univ. of Missouri, 1910, Ph.D. Princeton, 1913. He was astronomer at Mt. Wilson Observatory from 1914 to 1921, when he became director of Harvard Observatory. He did notable research work in photometry and spectroscopy, devoting particular study to the structure of the universe. He determined the size of the Milky Way and the position of its center as well as the position of the sun in the galaxy. Among his other distinguished contributions were his investigations in the fields of Cepheid variables (he established that they are pulsating stars rather than eclipsing binaries) and globular clusters. Shapley's works include Galaxies (1943) and Of Stars and Men (1958).

Shapley, Harlow


Born Nov. 2, 1885, in Nashville, Mo.; died Oct. 20,1972, in Boulder, Colo. American astronomer.

Shapley graduated from the University of Missouri at Columbia in 1910, and from 1912 to 1914 he worked at Princeton University. From 1914 to 1921 he was an astronomer at the Mount Wilson Observatory. From 1921 to 1952 he was director of the Harvard Observatory.

Shapley was a pioneer in a new method of investigating the structure of the Milky Way Galaxy and other stellar systems based on the study of variable stars. Between 1910 and 1912 Shapley and H. Russell developed a method of determining the orbital elements of eclipsing binaries. Shapley also worked out a method of determining distances to remote stellar systems and star clusters based on observations of the constituent variable stars known as the cepheids. From 1915 to 1917 he investigated a system of globular clusters and determined the direction to the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. Shapley’s research in extragalactic stellar systems is of great importance. Shapley also studied the Magellanic Clouds and investigated the structural features and spatial distribution of other galaxies. In addition, he was instrumental in organizing the study of meteors using the photographic method.


“Elements of the Eclipsing Variable Stars . . . .” Astrophysical Journal, 1914, vol. 39, pp. 405–27. (With H. N. Russell.)
Flights From Chaos . . . . New York, 1930.
In Russian translation:
Ot atomov do mlechnykhputei. Moscow-Leningrad, 1934.
Galaktiki. Moscow-Leningrad, 1947.

Shapley, Harlow

(1885–1972) astrophysicist; born in Nashville, Mo. To leave the farm, he took a business course, and at age 16 became a reporter for the Daily Sun in Chanute, Kans. With only a fifth-grade education, he attended the Presbyterian Carthage Collegiate Institute, graduated in two semesters, and went on to the University of Missouri: Columbia in 1907. The journalism school, his choice, was not yet open so he studied astronomy, an interest that was clinched by a teaching assistantship; in 1910 he graduated; in 1911 he took his Ph.D. at Princeton. He observed at Mt. Wilson Observatory from 1914 to 1921 before going to Harvard College where he directed the observatory from 1921–52. His early work included pioneer studies of binary stars and star clusters. He calculated that our sun is 30,000 light years from the center of the Milky Way, not at its center as was supposed; this resulted in the first realistic assessment of the size of our galaxy. Highly in demand as a lecturer, he wrote both technical works and more popular books such as Of Stars and Men (1958). He was active in scientific organizations and was the recipient of many honors.
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