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Maury, Antonia (Caetana de Paiva Pereira)

lines pickering spectra system

[maw ree] (1866–1952) US astronomer; made important contributions to sidereal astronomy.

Antonia Maury was the niece of Henry Draper (1837–82) who first photographed stellar spectra, and a grand-daughter of , a pioneer in the application of photography to astronomy. Her great-grandfather had been British physician to Pedro I, emperor of Brazil; his wife was Portuguese.

Maury graduated from Vassar College in 1887 and, at the request of her father, was employed by Edward Pickering (1846–1919) at Harvard College Observatory classifying the bright northern stars according to their spectra. Pickering had just established Mizar as the first spectroscopic binary (ie a binary detected by the shift in spectral lines, due to the relative motion of the pair of stars); Maury determined its period as 104 days. In 1889 she discovered the second spectroscopic binary star, ß Aurigae, with a period of about 4 days. In 1890 Williamina Fleming’s (1857–1911) Draper Catalogue of Stellar Spectra was published. Maury had been assigned a more detailed study of the brighter stars, made possible by placing three or four prisms in front of the 11 in (28 cm) Draper refractor (nearly the last scientific use to which the famous telescope was put before it was sent to China). Maury discovered deficiencies in the Draper Catalogue system and devised her own, published in 1896, in which she classified the spectra by the width and distinctness of their lines: spectra with ( a ) normal lines, ( b ) hazy lines and ( c ) sharp lines, with subdivisions used this to verify his discovery of dwarfs ( a and b ) and giants ( c ), and considered Maury’s system a major advance. Pickering refused to acknowledge its value and it was largely ignored at Harvard in favour of the system used by . The merits of Maury’s system were eventually recognized in 1943 when she received the Annie Jump Cannon Prize from the American Astronomical Society. Her work is now considered an essential step in the development of theoretical astrophysics.

The conflict between Pickering and Maury impeded her career. Her aunt, Henry Draper’s widow and benefactor of the Harvard Observatory, urged Pickering to ‘bid her goodbye without regret’. Maury left the Observatory in 1891 for a teaching position, returning to resume her work, under Pickering’s successor on spectroscopic binaries.

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