Antonia Maury

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Antonia Maury
BornMarch 21, 1866
Cold Spring, New York
DiedJanuary 8, 1952(1952-01-08) (aged 85)
Dobbs Ferry, New York
Alma materVassar College
AwardsAnnie Jump Cannon Award in Astronomy (1943)
Scientific career
InstitutionsHarvard College Observatory
Academic advisorsMaria Mitchell

Antonia Caetana de Paiva Pereira Maury (March 21, 1866 – January 8, 1952) was an American astronomer who was the first to detect and calculate the orbit of a spectroscopic binary. She published an important early catalog of stellar spectra using her own system of stellar classification, which was later adopted by the International Astronomical Union. She also spent many years studying the binary star Beta Lyrae. Maury was part of the Harvard Computers, a group of female astronomers and human computers at the Harvard College Observatory.

Antonia Maury was awarded the Annie Jump Cannon Award in Astronomy in 1943. William Wilson Morgan, one of the developers of the MK system of stellar classification, which builds upon her work, has said that he considers Antonia Maury "for me, the single greatest mind that has ever engaged itself in the field of the morphology of stellar spectra."[1]

Early life[edit]

Antonia Caetana de Paiva Pereira Maury was born in Cold Spring, New York, in 1866. She was named in honor of her maternal grandmother, Antonia Caetana de Paiva Pereira Gardner Draper, the daughter of a physician at the court of John VI of Portugal and Charlotte of Spain.[1] The family fled Portugal for Brazil because of the Napoleonic Wars.[2]

Maury's father was the Reverend Mytton Maury, an amateur naturalist, a direct descendant of the Reverend James Maury and one of the sons of Sarah Mytton Maury. Maury's mother was Virginia Draper, a daughter of Antonia Caetana de Paiva Pereira Gardner and Dr. John William Draper.[2]

Maury was also the granddaughter of John William Draper and a niece of Henry Draper and his wife Mary Anna Draper, all pioneering astronomers. Mary Anna Draper funded research at Harvard College Observatory through the creation of the Henry Draper Memorial Fund.[3] As a result of their family connections, Antonia and her two siblings were exposed to science at a very early age.[1] Her younger sister, Carlotta Maury, went on to become a geologist, stratigrapher, and paleontologist.[4]

Antonia Maury attended Vassar College, graduating in 1887 with honors in physics, astronomy, and philosophy. At Vassar she studied under the tutelage of renowned astronomer Maria Mitchell.[1] She was one of seven graduates chosen to give an addresses at her commencement.[3]

Astronomical work[edit]

After completing her undergraduate work, Maury went to work at the Harvard College Observatory as one of the so-called Harvard Computers, highly skilled women who processed astronomical data. Her salary was 25 cents,[clarification needed] half the amount paid to men at that time.[5]

In 1887, Edward Charles Pickering had found the first spectroscopic binary or double star, ζ1 Ursae Majoris (Mizar A).[6] Maury was asked to determine its orbit, which she did using periodic doubling of some of the lines in its spectrum. Then, in 1889, Maury discovered a second spectroscopic binary, Beta Aurigae, and calculated its orbital period.[3] Learning of this work from a copy of the Annual Report of the Henry Draper Memorial, eminent astronomer John Herschel recognized the importance of her achievements by writing to Pickering, the observatory's director. Herschel asked Pickering "to convey to Miss Maury my congratulations on having connected her name with one of the most notable advances in physical astronomy ever made."[7]

However, when the first spectroscopic binary and its orbit were more widely reported, the name connected with it was Pickering. The discovery was announced by Pickering in a presentation to the Philadelphia meeting of the National Academy of Sciences on November 13, 1889. The work was described in a paper "On the Spectrum of Zeta Ursae Majoris", which appeared in the American Journal of Science in 1890. In both cases the only mention of Maury was a single line, stating that "a careful study of the results has been made by Miss. A. C. Maury, a niece of Dr. Draper". The sole author credit was given as Pickering.[1][5][8]

Harvard Computers at work, including Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868–1921), Annie Jump Cannon (1863–1941), Williamina Fleming (1857–1911), and Antonia Maury (1866–1952).

In 1888,[3] Maury was assigned to observe stellar spectra of bright stars in the northern celestial hemisphere and catalog them.[1][9] Her work contributed to the construction of the Henry Draper Catalogue. By 1924, the catalogue would contain 225,300 stellar spectra, described in terms of their characteristics. By 2017, it would have 359,083 entries.[10][11]

The Harvard Observatory staff used an alphabetical system of classification designed by Williamina P. Fleming and Annie Jump Cannon. Maury found their classification system inadequate and developed her own. It was considerably more detailed and included information about temperature and about the width, distinctness, and intensity of spectral lines.[1][9]

In 1891 Maury left the observatory and started teaching in the Gilman School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Pickering asked her to return and complete her observations, and she said that she was uncomfortable completing her research if her work was unacknowledged.[12]

I do not think it is fair that I should pass the work into other hands until it can stand as work done by me. I worked out the theory at the cost of much thought and elaborate comparison and I think that I should have full credit for my theory of the relations of the star spectra and also for my theories in regard to Beta Lyrae.[1]

She returned in 1893 and 1895 and published her observations of stellar spectra in an important catalogue of classifications in 1897. Spectra of Bright Stars Photographed With the 11-Inch Draper Telescope As Part of the Henry Draper Memorial and Discussed by Antonia C. Maury Under the Direction of Edward Charles Pickering (1897) presented the results of Maury's examination of 4,800 stellar photographs, using her own system of classification, and analyzed 681 bright northern stars in detail.[3] It was the first observatory publication to have a woman's name in the title.[12][1][13]

Pickering and others at the observatory disagreed with Maury's system of classification and explanation of differing line widths, and refused to use it. It was partly in response to this negative reaction to her work that she decided to leave the observatory. However, by 1908 Danish astronomer Ejnar Hertzsprung had realized the value of her classifications and used them in his system of identifying[clarification needed] very bright red giant stars from faint dwarf stars.[5][1] Hertzsprung wrote to Pickering:[14]

In my opinion the separation by Antonia Maury of the c-and ac stars is the most important advancement in stellar classification since the trials by Vogel and Secchi ... To neglect the c-properties in solar spectra, I think, is nearly the same thing as if the zoologist, who had detected the deciding differences between a whale and a fish, would continue in classifying them together.

— Ejnar Hertzsprung[15]

Not until 1922 did the International Astronomical Union (IAU) modify its classification system based on the work done by Maury and Hertzsprung, a formulation known as the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram.[12][16] Astronomer Dorrit Hoffleit has presented scientific evidence to support the view that stellar morphology was held back by 30 years as a result of the failure to adopt Antonia Maury's stellar classification theory sooner.[16]

Between 1896 and 1918 Maury taught physics and chemistry at the Castle School (Miss C.E. Mason's Suburban School for Girls) in Tarrytown, New York. She also gave lectures on astronomy at Cornell.[1]

In 1918, Maury returned to Harvard College Observatory as an adjunct professor. With Pickering's successor Harlow Shapley she was given credit for her work, which was published under her own name. She stayed in the observatory until her retirement in 1948.[17] Her work summarizing many years of research on the spectroscopic analysis of the binary star Beta Lyrae was published in 1933.[18]


Maury lunar crater

Antonia Maury was a member of the American Astronomical Society and the Royal Astronomical Society.[12] In 1943, she was awarded the Annie Jump Cannon Award in Astronomy by the American Astronomical Society.[19]

The lunar crater Maury and a number of smaller ejecta craters are co-named for Antonia Maury. They were originally named for her cousin, Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury, United States and later Confederate navies, and are, perhaps, the only lunar features shared by two cousins.[20][21]

In 1978, the Revised MK Spectral Atlas for Stars Earlier Than the Sun honored "Antonia C. Maury, Master Morphologist of Stellar Spectra" in its dedication.[5]

Later years[edit]

After retirement, Maury pursued interests in nature and conservation.[22] She belonged to the National Audubon Society[12] and enjoyed birdwatching. She fought to save western Sequoia trees from being felled during wartime.[23]

For three years, Maury also served as curator of the John William Draper House in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, where her grandfather and uncle had built observatories, and where the first photos of the moon as seen through a telescope were taken.[22]

Maury died on January 8, 1952, in Dobbs Ferry, New York.[24]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Antonia Maury". Vassar Encyclopedia. 2008. Retrieved January 12, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Peed, Dorothy Myers (1966). America is People and Ideas. Berlin: Exposition Press.
  3. ^ a b c d e Smith, Lindsay (March 15, 2015). "Antonia Maury". Project Continua (1 ed.). Retrieved July 8, 2020.
  4. ^ Creese, M. R. (2007). "The role of women in the history of geology". In C. V. Burek; B. Higgs (eds.). Fossil Hunters, a Cave Explorer and a Rock Analyst; Notes On Some Early Women Contributors to Geology. Vol. 281. London, UK: Geological Society of London. pp. 39–49. doi:10.1144/SP281.3. S2CID 129781586. {{cite book}}: |journal= ignored (help)
  5. ^ a b c d Merrill Fabry (March 21, 2016). "The 'Renegade' Woman Who Sorted the Stars". Time. Retrieved November 15, 2018.
  6. ^ Mamajek, Eric E.; Kenworthy, Matthew A.; Hinz, Philip M.; Meyer, Michael R. (2010). "Discovery of a Faint Companion to Alcor Using MMT/AO 5 μm Imaging". The Astronomical Journal. 139 (3): 919–925. arXiv:0911.5028. Bibcode:2010AJ....139..919M. doi:10.1088/0004-6256/139/3/919. S2CID 51834159.
  7. ^ Jones, Bessie Zaban; Boyd, Lyle Gifford (1971). The Harvard College Observatory: The First Four Directorships, 1839-1919. Harvard University Press. p. 244. ISBN 9780674374607.
  8. ^ Pickering, E. C. (1890). "On the spectrum of zeta Ursae Majoris". The Observatory. 13: 80–81. Bibcode:1890Obs....13...80P.
  9. ^ a b Lorenzano, Pablo; Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg; Ortiz, Eduardo; Galles, Carlos Delfino (September 27, 2010). History and Philosophy of Science and Technology. Vol. II. EOLSS Publications. p. 204. ISBN 9781848263246.
  10. ^ Nesterov, V. V.; Kuzmin, A. V.; Ashimbaeva, N. T.; Volchkov, A. A.; Röser, S.; Bastian, U. (1995). "The Henry Draper Extension Charts: A catalogue of accurate positions, proper motions, magnitudes and spectral types of 86933 stars". Astronomy and Astrophysics Supplement Series. 110: 367. Bibcode:1995A&AS..110..367N. CDS ID III/182.
  11. ^ Cannon, Annie. J. (1936). "The Henry Draper extension". Annals of Harvard College Observatory. 100: 1. Bibcode:1936AnHar.100....1C.
  12. ^ a b c d e "Antonia Maury". Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  13. ^ Maury, Antonia (1897). "Spectra of Bright Stars Photographed with the 11-inch Draper Telescope as part of the Henry Draper Memorial". Annals of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College. Cambridge, MA. 28: 1–128. Bibcode:1897AnHar..28....1M. Retrieved January 12, 2013.
  14. ^ Dick, Steven J. (September 9, 2013). Discovery and Classification in Astronomy: Controversy and Consensus. Cambridge University Press. p. 96. ISBN 9781107033610. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  15. ^ Gingerich, Owen (2013). "The Critical Importance of Russell's Diagram". Origins of the Expanding Universe: 1912-1932. Proceedings of a conference held 13-15 September, 2012, at Flagstaff, Arizona, USA. ASP Conference Proceedings. Vol. 471. San Francisco: Astronomical Society of the Pacific. p. 205. arXiv:1302.0862. Bibcode:2013ASPC..471..205G. {{cite book}}: |journal= ignored (help)
  16. ^ a b Hoffleit, Dorrit (1994). Corbally, C. J.; Gray, R. O. (eds.). "Remniscences on Antonia Maury and the c-Characteristic". The MK Process at 50 Years. A Powerful Tool for Astrophysical Insight Astronomical Society of the Pacific Conference Series, Proceedings of a Workshop of the Vatican Observatory, Held in Tucson Arizona, USA, September 1993, San Francisco: Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP). 60: 215. Bibcode:1994ASPC...60..215H.
  17. ^ Smith, Kiona N. (March 22, 2019). "Antonia Maury: A Female Astronomer's Fight For Recognition". Forbes. Retrieved July 7, 2020.
  18. ^ Maury, Antonia C. (1933). "The Spectral Changes of Beta Lyrae". Annals of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College. Cambridge, MA. 84 (8): 207–255. Bibcode:1933AnHar..84..207M. Retrieved January 12, 2013.
  19. ^ "Annie J. Cannon Award in Astronomy". American Astronomical Society. Archived from the original on January 29, 2013. Retrieved January 12, 2013.
  20. ^ Lomb, Nick (September 21, 2010). "The "Something Old, Something New" crater on the Moon – Crater Maury". Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  21. ^ Altschuler, Daniel R.; Ballesteros, Fernando J. (July 4, 2019). The Women of the Moon: Tales of Science, Love, Sorrow, and Courage. Oxford University Press. p. 47. ISBN 9780198844419. Retrieved July 8, 2020.
  22. ^ a b Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey; Harvey, Joy Dorothy (2000). The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: L-Z. Taylor & Francis. pp. 856–857. ISBN 9780415920407. Retrieved July 8, 2020.
  23. ^ Grijseels, Dori (March 22, 2020). "Meet Antonia Maury, astronomy's renegade who changed the way we classify stars". Massive Science. Retrieved July 8, 2020.
  24. ^ Cavendish, Dean Miller (January 1, 2014). Astronomers and Cosmologists. Square Publishing, LLC. pp. 127–129. ISBN 9781627125499. Retrieved July 8, 2020.

Further reading[edit]