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Dorrit Hoffleit: An Astronomer’s Legacy

Centauri Dreams has always admired gutsy women. Dorritt Hoffleit was one of the gutsiest. She spent nearly fifty years at Yale University teaching, doing research and continuing to work in her office into her 90’s. She may have been the world’s oldest active astronomer when she died on April 9 at age 100.

Here’s a bit from the Boston Globe‘s obituary:

As the author of the Yale Bright Star Catalogue, she tracked stars across the sky and published their locations. In her spare time, she studied variable stars, stars that vary in brightness with time, and taught young female astronomy students on Nantucket every summer. Awards and honors began to pile up.

She was awarded the George Van Biesbroeck Prize in 1988 for dedication to astronomy and five years later the American Astronomical Society awarded her the Annenberg Prize for science education. That same year, she was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame. And still, though she had officially retired at age 68 in 1975, she kept working, often harder than colleagues half her age.

This is a loss for Yale and the astronomy community in general. Dr. Hoffleit leaves, of course, a lasting legacy in the inspiration she provided to her students, no small part of which was the sheer pluck by which she worked her way up in a historically male profession. The changes her 100 years saw both socially and scientifically are little short of astonishing.

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  • philw April 18, 2007, 20:31

    Thanks for posting this. I have long been aware of her contributions to astronomy. She will be missed. What a fine example. Maria Mitchell, Annie Cannon, Dorritt Hoffleit…

  • Administrator April 18, 2007, 21:13

    And let’s not forget Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, who showed that the sun and stars were mostly hydrogen. Nice bio of her here:

    http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/unitarians/payne2.html