Emma Vyssotsky

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Emma Vyssotsky
Emma Williams

(1894-10-23)October 23, 1894
Media, Pennsylvania
DiedMay 12, 1975(1975-05-12) (aged 80)
Winter Park, Florida
EducationHarvard University
SpouseAlexander Vyssotsky
ChildrenVictor Vyssotsky
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Virginia

Emma Vyssotsky (October 23, 1894 – May 12, 1975, born Emma T. R. Williams) was an American astronomer who was honored with the Annie J. Cannon Award in Astronomy in 1946.[1]


Emma earned her bachelor's degree in mathematics at Swarthmore College in 1916[1] and worked at Smith College as an astronomy[2]/mathematics[1] demonstrator for a year before finding work at an insurance company as an actuary. In 1927, after receiving a Whitney Fellowship and a Bartol Scholarship, she enrolled in astronomy at Radcliffe College (now part of Harvard).[2] There, she worked with Cecilia Payne on the "spectral line contours of hydrogen and ionized calcium throughout the spectral sequence."[2]

Emma received her PhD in astronomy from Harvard College in 1930 for her dissertation titled, A Spectrophotometric Study of A Stars.[2] At the time, she was only the third individual to be awarded a PhD in astronomy from Harvard.[1]

She followed her husband, astronomer Alexander N. Vyssotsky, to the University of Virginia, where he was offered a professorship; she was offered an instructor position.[1] She spent her astronomy career at the McCormick Observatory at the university,[2] where her specialty was the motion of stars and the kinematics of the Milky Way. The couple worked together.

[They were] studying stellar parallaxes by applying trigonometric functions to observations made on multiple photographic exposures. They discovered many of these parallaxes by attaching a special objective prism to the observatory's astrograph. Their research led to accurate calculations of stellar motions and the determination of the structure of galaxies.[1]

She worked at the observatory "for more than a dozen years" before the university promoted her to professor in 1945, but by then she had taken a medical leave of absence after contracting a debilitating illness, Malta Fever, which restricted her activities. Still, she continued to publish.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Emma Williams married the Russian-born astronomer Alexander N. Vyssotsky in 1929 and they published jointly and worked together at the McCormick Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia.[2] They had one son, Victor A. Vyssotsky (a mathematician and computer scientist), who was involved in the Multics project and co-created the Darwin computer game.

Emma died in Winter Park, Florida two years after her husband's death.[1]


In 1946, she was awarded the Annie J. Cannon Award in Astronomy by the American Astronomical Society in recognition of her contributions to the field of stellar spectra.[1][3]

Select publications[edit]

Emma published much of her research under the name E. T. Williams. The couple would alternate the lead author role on their joint papers, with her name appearing first sometimes, and his name appearing first at other times.[1]

  • Vyssotsky, E. T. W. (1929). A Spectrophotometric Study of A Stars (Doctoral dissertation, Radcliffe College).
  • Vyssotsky, A. N., & Williams, E. T. (1933). Color indices and integrated magnitudes of fifteen bright globular clusters. The Astrophysical Journal, 77, 301.
  • Williams, E. T., & Vyssotsky, A. N. (1935). Color Indices and Integrated Magnitudes of Fifteen Bright Globular Clusters, by AN Wyssotsky and Emma TR Williams. University of Virginia.
  • Vyssotsky, A. N., & Williams, E. T. (1943). Mccormick Spectral Statistics. The Astrophysical Journal, 98, 185.
  • Williams, E. T., & Vyssotsky, A. N. (1946). Distribution of faint red giants in galactic longitude as compared with faint A stars. The Astronomical Journal, 52, 51.
  • Vyssotsky, A. N., & Williams, E. T. (1948). An investigation of stellar motions. XII An interpretation of peculiar motions in terms of galactic structure (Astron. J., vol. 56, 1951, p. 62).


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Oakes, Elizabeth H. (2007). Encyclopedia of World Scientists. Library Genesis. New York: Facts on File. pp. 745–746. ISBN 978-0-8160-6158-7. (also available on archive.org
  2. ^ a b c d e f Broughton, Peter. "Education Notes: A Photograph of Nine Young Women Astronomers at Harvard College Observatory in 1928" (PDF). Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. 96: 255–258. Retrieved July 16, 2021.
  3. ^ "Annie Jump Cannon Award in Astronomy". American Astronomical Society. Retrieved November 30, 2015.

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