Oh Be a Fine Girl Kiss Me

Annie Jump Cannon at the Harvard College Observatory

Jump!Star is named in honor of Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941), a Deaf American scientist known as the “Census Taker of the Sky.” She was one of the “Harvard Computers”—a team of female astronomers who worked behind the scenes in the Harvard College Observatory under Director Edward Pickering. Cannon’s particular research was in developing a system to organize and classify the stars. Other female scientists in Pickering’s lab had laid groundwork in that area and understood that when stars are viewed through a spectrum (or what is known as “diffraction grating”), the rainbow pattern of light they give off is interrupted by a series of dark lines, called Balmer Absorption Lines. These lines correspond with the gasses being emitted from the star, and therefore with the star’s temperature. Annie’s inventive classification system would use the star’s temperature as its distinguishing feature. This meant that the previous alphabetical system would have to be rearranged, since the stars that had been previously classified as type O were the hottest, and that type B type stars the next hottest, followed by A stars, etc. Annie came up with the mnemonic Oh Be A Fine Girl Kiss Me, which students in astronomy still use to remember the Harvard Classification Scheme for categorizing stars.

Annie and telescope in Peru.

Annie herself was exceptional at stellar classification and could categorize the stars with tremendous speed and accuracy. She is credited with having catalogued 350,000 stars. Additionally, she discovered 300 variable stars, 5 novae, and 1 binary star. She classified more stars than anyone in history, and is reported to have been able to record as many as three stars per minute.

Annie's legacy continues to grow among scientists today. The American Astronomical Society presents an annual award in her name to distinguished female astronomers.


Annie Jump Cannon Awards & Honors

  • First woman elected officer of the American Astronomical Society

  • First woman to receive an honorary doctorate from Oxford

  • Named Curator of Astronomical Photographs at Harvard

  • Named one of the 12 Greatest Living Women by the National League of Women Voters

  • Appointed William C. Bond Astronomer by Harvard

  • First woman awarded the Henry Draper Medal of Honor, National Academy of Sciences


Other works recognizing Annie Jump Cannon:

The Glass Universe, by Dava Sobel

Your Body Is a Space That Sees, by artist Lia Halloran


Thanks to these sites and Wikipedia for providing information about Annie Jump Cannon: