|Born||November 2, 1885
|Died||October 20, 1972
|Alma mater||University of Missouri, Princeton University|
|Doctoral advisor||Henry Norris Russell|
|Doctoral students||Georges Lemaître, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin|
|Known for||Determining the correct position of the Sun within the Milky Way Galaxy|
|Notable awards||Henry Draper Medal (1926)
Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1934)
Bruce Medal (1939)
He used RR Lyrae stars to correctly estimate the size of the Milky Way Galaxy and the sun's position within it. In 1953 he proposed his "liquid water belt" theory, now known as the concept of a habitable zone.
He was born to Willis and Sarah (née Stowell) Shapley on a farm in Nashville, Missouri, and dropped out of school with only the equivalent of a fifth-grade education. After studying at home and covering crime stories as a newspaper reporter, Shapley returned to complete a six-year high school program in only two years, graduating as class valedictorian.
In 1907, at the age of 22, Harlow Shapley went to study journalism at University of Missouri. When he learned that the opening of the School of Journalism had been postponed for a year, he decided to study the first subject he came across in the course directory. Rejecting Archaeology, which Harlow later explained he couldn't pronounce, Harlow chose the next subject, Astronomy.
Post-graduation, Shapley received a fellowship to Princeton University for graduate work, where he studied under Henry Norris Russell and used the period-luminosity relation for Cepheid variable stars (discovered by Henrietta Swan Leavitt) to determine distances to globular clusters. He was instrumental in moving astronomy away from the idea that Cepheids were spectroscopic binaries, and toward the concept that they were pulsators. He was the first to realize that the Milky Way Galaxy was much larger than previously believed, and that the Sun's place in the galaxy was in a nondescript location. This discovery by Shapley is a key part of the Copernican principle, according to which the Earth is not at the center of our Solar System, our galaxy, or our Universe.
Shapley participated in the "Great Debate" with Heber D. Curtis on the nature of nebulae and galaxies and the size of the Universe. The debate took place on April 26, 1920, in the hall of the United States National Academy of Sciences in Washington D.C. Shapley took the side that spiral nebulae (what are now called galaxies) are inside our Milky Way, while Curtis took the side that the spiral nebulae are 'island universes' far outside our own Milky Way and comparable in size and nature to our own Milky Way. This issue and debate are the start of extragalactic astronomy, while the detailed arguments and data, often with ambiguities, appeared together in 1921. Characteristic issues were whether Adriaan van Maanen had measured rotation in a spiral nebula, the nature and luminosity of the exploding novae and supernovae seen in spiral galaxies, and the size of our own Milky Way. However, Shapley's actual talk and argument given during the Great Debate was completely different from the published paper. Historian Michael Hoskin says "His decision was to treat the National Academy of Sciences to an address so elementary that much of it was necessarily uncontroversial.", with Shapley's motivation being only to impress a delegation from Harvard who were interviewing him for a possible offer as the next Director of Harvard College Observatory. With the default by Shapley, Curtis won the debate. The astronomical issues were soon resolved in favor of Curtis' position when Edwin Hubble discovered Cepheid variable stars in the Andromeda Galaxy.
At the time of the debate, Shapley was working at the Mount Wilson Observatory, where he had been hired by George Ellery Hale. After the debate, however, he was hired to replace the recently deceased Edward Charles Pickering as director of the Harvard College Observatory.
He is also known to have incorrectly opposed Edwin Hubble's observations that there are additional galaxies in the universe other than the Milky Way. Shapley fiercely critiqued Hubble and regarded his work as junk science. Hubble's findings went on to reshape fundamentally the scientific view of the universe.
He served as director of the HCO from 1921 to 1952. During this time, he hired Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, who, in 1925, became the first person to earn a doctorate at Radcliffe College in the field of astronomy for work done at Harvard College Observatory.
He wrote many books on astronomy and the sciences. Among these was Source Book in Astronomy (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1929—co-written with Helen E. Howarth, also on the staff of the Harvard College Observatory), the first of the publisher's series of source books in the history of the sciences.
From 1941 he was on the original standing committee of the Foundation for the Study of Cycles.
He also served on the board of trustees of Science Service, now known as Society for Science & the Public, from 1935-1971.
In the 1940s, Shapley helped found government funded scientific associations, including the National Science Foundation. He is also responsible for the addition of the "S" in UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
He became President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1947. In his inaugural address he referred to the danger of the "genius maniac" and proposed the elimination of "all primates that show any evidence of signs of genius or even talent". Other global threats he listed were: drugs that suppressed the desire for sex; boredom; world war with weapons of mass destruction; a plague epidemic.
In 1950, Shapley was instrumental in organizing a campaign in academia against the controversial US bestseller book (considered by many as pseudoscience) Worlds in Collision by Russian expatriate psychiatrist Immanuel Velikovsky. Although Velikovsky was a brilliant scientist and personal friend of Albert Einstein, Shapley did everything in his power to discredit Velikovsky's work. Shapely wrote to MacMillian the publisher of Velikovsky's best seller, World in Collision threatening them with a boycott of their text books if they did not drop the publication of Worlds in Collision. At the time seventy percent of MacMillian's revenues were from text books, so they were forced to break the Velikovsky contract (but before they did, they secured Doubleday as a publisher for his work). In a letter written to Thackery of "The Compass" Shapley characterized Velikovsky as "a crank" and "a fraud"; he called Velikovsky's work "pure rubbish." Velikovsky's theory, which was the first interdisciplinary theory linking astronomy, archaeology, geology, mythology and (to a lesser extent theology) through historical records, hypothesized that the Earth has been through violent upheavals in the near past, that the solar system was not always of the current configuration, and specifically that Venus was once a comet. His work has been a catalyst for many changes in modern scientific theory. For a starling insight into the conflict between Shapley and Velikovsky, and for confirmation of the information in the above paragraph, read "Immanual Velikovsky, The Truth Behind the Torment".
In his 1957 book "Of Stars and Men", Shapley proposed the term Metagalaxies for what are now called superclusters.
Institute on Religion in an Age of Science
Although Shapley was an agnostic, he was greatly interested in religion. Shapley attended Institute on Religion in an Age of Science conferences at Star Island and was the editor of the book Science Ponders Religion (1960).
He married Martha Betz (1891-1981) in April 1914. She assisted her husband in astronomical research both at Mount Wilson and at Harvard Observatory. She produced numerous articles on eclipsing stars and other astronomical objects. They had one daughter and four sons, one of whom is a mathematician and economist Lloyd Shapley, who won a Nobel Prize in Economics in 2012. His widow died in 1981.
- Henry Draper Medal of the National Academy of Sciences (1926)
- Prix Jules Janssen of the French Astronomical Society (1933)
- Rumford Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1933) 
- Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1934)
- Bruce Medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (1939)
- Pius XI Medal (1941) 
- Franklin Medal (1945)
- Henry Norris Russell Lectureship of the American Astronomical Society (1950)
Named after him
- The crater Shapley on the Moon
- Asteroid 1123 Shapleya
- Shapley Supercluster
- Harlow Shapley Visiting Lectureships In Astronomy, American Astronomical Society
'Some piously record "In the beginning God", but I say "In the beginning hydrogen".'
'Theories crumble, but good observations never fade.'
'No one trusts a model except the man who wrote it; everyone trusts an observation, except the man who made it.' 
'When one of our inevitable super-geniuses of the future discovers some new mankind-annihilating device, and this genius is insane, perhaps undetectably insane, he will willingly perish as he murders the rest'.
- "Dr. Harlow Shapley Dies at 86. Dean of American Astronomers. Dr. Harlow Shapley, Dean of American Astronomers, Dies at 86". New York Times. October 21, 1972. Retrieved 2014-01-15. "Dr. Harlow Shapley, one of the world's best-known astronomers, died in a nursing home yesterday in Boulder, Colo., after a long illness. He was 86 years old."
- Goldberg, Leo (January 1973). "Obituary: Harlow Shapley". Physics Today 26 (1): 107–108. doi:10.1063/1.3127920.
- Bart J. Bok. Harlow Shapely 1885-1972 A Biographical Memoir. National Academy of Sciences
- Richard J. Hugget, Geoecology: an evolutionary approach. pg 10
- Hockey, Thomas (2009). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers. Springer Publishing. ISBN 978-0-387-31022-0. Retrieved August 22, 2012.
- "On the Nature and Cause of Cepheid Variation," Shapley, H., Astrophysical Journal, 40, 448 (1914)
- "The Scale of the Universe" Shapley, H. and Curtis, H. D., Bulletin of the National Research Council, 2, 169, p. 171-217 (1921)
- "The 'Great Debate': What Really Happened" Hoskin, M., Journal for the History of Astronomy, 7, 169 (1976)
- ^ Marcia Bartusiak (2010). The Day We Found the Universe. Random House Digital, Inc. pp. x-xi.
- "He's anti-genius". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. January 9, 1947. p. 9.
- "People: Inside Dopester". Time Magazine. January 6, 1947.
- James F. Kasting, How to find a habitable planet. pg 127
- Kragh, Helge (2004). Matter and spirit in the Universe: scientific and religious preludes to modern cosmology. OECD Publishing. p. 237. ISBN 978-1-86094-469-7. "Shapley was not committed to any particular model of the expanding universe, but he did have strong opinions about the relationship between astronomy and religion. A confirmed agnostic, in the postwar period he often participated in science-religion discussions, and in 1960 he edited a major work on the subject — Science Ponders Religion."
- I.S. Glass (2006). "Harlow Shapley: Defining our galaxy". Revolutionaries of the Cosmos: The Astro-physicists. Oxford University Press. pp. 265–266. ISBN 9780198570998. "Although a declared agnostic, Shapley was deeply interested in religion and was a genuinely 'religious' person from a philosophical point of view. 'I never go to church', he told Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, 'I am too religious."
- "Varieties of Belief" (Review of Science Ponders Religion) by Edmund Fuller, December 18, 1960, New York Times
- "Martha Betz Shapley". New York Times. January 27, 1981. Retrieved 2014-01-15. "Martha Betz Shapley, widow of Dr. Harlow Shapley, the astronomer, died Saturday in Tucson, Ariz. She was 90 years old. She was born in Kansas City, Mo., and graduated from the University of Missouri. ..."
- "Henry Draper Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
- "Past Recipients of the Rumford Prize". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
- "Winners of the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society". Royal Astronomical Society. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
- "Past Winners of the Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal". Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
- "Harlow Shapley Wins Pius XI Prize. Harvard Observatory Chief Receives Astronomy Award of Pontifical Academy". New York Times. December 1, 1941. Retrieved 2014-01-15. "The Pope today attended the inauguration of the new academic year of the Pontifical Academy ..."
- "Grants, Prizes and Awards". American Astronomical Society. Archived from the original on 22 December 2010. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
- Paul F. Ellis (December 30, 1946). "Most potent killer is believed genius maniac". The Spartanburg Herald. p. 5.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Harlow Shapley.|
- The Great Debate
- Collection of Pieces on The Great Debate
- Harlow Shapley at the Mathematics Genealogy Project