Charlotte Moore Sitterly

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Charlotte Moore Sitterly
Born (1898-09-24)September 24, 1898
Ercildoun, Pennsylvania
Died March 3, 1990(1990-03-03) (aged 91)
Nationality American
Fields astronomy
Alma mater Princeton
Influences Henry Norris Russell
Bancroft W. Sitterly
Influenced William C. Martin
Notable awards

Bruce Medal (1990)

Federal Woman's Award (1961)

Charlotte Emma Moore Sitterly (September 24, 1898 – March 3, 1990) was an American astronomer.[1] She won the 1990 Bruce Medal.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Fallowfield Friends Meeting

Charlotte Moore was born to George W. and Elizabeth Walton Moore in Ercildoun, Pennsylvania, a small village near Coatesville. Her father was the Superintendent of Schools for Chester County and her mother was a schoolteacher. Her parents were Quakers and Charlotte was a lifelong member of Fallowfield Friends Meeting.

She attended Swarthmore College, where she participated in many extracurricular activities such as ice hockey, student government, glee club, and tutoring. She graduated from Swarthmore College in 1920 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics and went on to Princeton to work as a human computer.[3]


On the recommendation of her Math professor at Swarthmore, Moore obtained a job at the Princeton University Observatory working for Professor Henry Norris Russell as a "computer," carrying out calculations needed for him to assign atomic spectra from astrophysical sources. Over time, while working for Russell, Moore's interest in astrophysics began to blossom. Eventually the two of them became working partners, participating in many exciting developments in astronomical spectroscopy of that time. The two of them used spectroscopy to determine the wavelength where spectral lines appeared as well as researching double stars. After five years at Princeton, as part of an ongoing collaboration between Russell and research groups there, she moved to the Mount Wilson Observatory where she worked extensively on solar spectroscopy, analyzing the spectral lines of the Sun and thereby identifying the chemical elements in the Sun. Her pictures from the Mount Wilson Observatory helped redetermine the new International Angstrom scale. She earned a Ph.D. in astronomy in 1931 from the University of California, Berkeley on a Lick Fellowship. While working on her Ph.D, she continued researching spectroscopy and collected and analyzed data about the spectra of chemical elements and molecules. After obtaining her Ph.D, she returned to Princeton to continue work with Russell as a research assistant. She continued to collect data and made it widely available to physicists and astronomers around the world.[3]

One of her most significant contributions to physics was her identification of technetium in sunlight, the first example of technetium naturally existing. She joined the then National Bureau of Standards (NBS) in 1945.[4] Her tables of atomic spectra and energy levels, published by NBS, have remained essential references in spectroscopy for decades. Later in her life, it became possible to launch instruments on rockets and she extended her work to the ultraviolet spectral lines.

In 1949 she became the first woman elected as an associate of the Royal Astronomical Society of Great Britain, in honor of her work on multiplet tablets and in identifying solar spot electra. Throughout her career she authored and co-authored over 100 papers and attended the tenth general assembly of the International Astronomical Union on the Joint Commission on Spectroscopy in Moscow in 1958.[3]

Personal life[edit]

During her second stay at Princeton, she met and married, on May 30, 1937, Bancroft W. Sitterly, who became a physics professor. She continued to publish journals under her maiden name because most of her recognition was under that name. She believed that traveling is one of the most important aspects of a scientist's life, as it promotes collaboration between scientists. She enjoyed gardening, traveling, and music with her husband until his death in 1977. She served as the physics department head at American University for many years, and researched her genealogy of her mother's family in 1982. She worked until her death on March 3, 1990 from heart failure at the age of 91.[3]


Her Awards

Named after her


  • The Masses of the Stars (with Henry Norris Russell), 1940,
  • Atomic Energy Levels as Derived from the Analyses of Optical Spectra, 1958
  • The Solar Spectrum (with Harold D. Babcock), 1947,


  1. ^ Martin, William C. (April 1991). "Obituary: Charlotte Moore Sitterly". Physics Today. 44 (4): 128–130. doi:10.1063/1.2810096. 
  2. ^ "Bruce Medal: Charlotte Emma Moore Sitterly". Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Retrieved February 2, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d Shearer, Benjamin F. (1997). Notable women in the physical sciences : a biographical dictionary (1. publ. ed.). Westport, Conn. [u.a.]: Greenwood Press. pp. 375–381. ISBN 0313293031. 
  4. ^ Walter Sullivan (March 8, 1990). "Charlotte Sitterly, 91; Devoted Career to Sunlight Studies". The New York Times. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]