Williamina Fleming

Williamina Fleming was an astronomer who studied and mapped over 10,000 stars.

Who was she?

Williamina was born in Dundee on 15th May 1857.

She left school at 14 and became a teacher.

After she and her husband moved to America in 1878 Williamina became pregnant. Her husband left her, so Williamina had to find a job to support herself and her child.

She found work as a maid for Professor Edward Pickering. He was in charge of the observatory at Harvard University near Boston. The observatory was being used to map the positions of the stars.

After less than two years Professor Pickering offered Williamina a new job, helping him with his star mapping work.

Williamina's new job was as a computer. She had to check photographs taken of very distant stars and find a way to organise the information.

She died in Boston on 21st May 1911.

Why was she important?

Williamina came up with a way to classify stars based on their brightness and size. This is still used today.

She discovered nearly 400 stars and other objects out in space.

Her most famous discovery is called the Horsehead Nebula. A nebula is a cloud of gas. This one looks very like a horse's head!

She was the first person to discover a white dwarf. A white dwarf is what is left when a star the size of our sun has burned out.

Williamina worked to promote jobs for women in science. She thought that if women were given the same training as men they could do just as good a job.

The Horsehead Nebula

Williamina's world - some of the people and places that were important for her

A colour illustration of Harvard College Observatory

This drawing shows the observatory at Harvard College in the early Nineteenth Century.

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