Wednesday, June 3, 2009

June 3: Adelaide Ames

Wilson, Adelaide Ames and Cecilia Payne at Harvard in 1924

Adelaide Ames
June 3, 1900 - 1932

Adelaide Ames was an American astronomer. In 1932 Harlow Shapley and Adelaide Ames introduced the Shapley-Ames Catalog that showed the distributions of galaxies brighter than 13th magnitude to be quite different north and south of the plane of the Galaxy. Their study was the first to indicate that the universe might contain substantial regions that departed from the assumption of homogeneity and isotropy.

Ames graduated from Vassar College in 1922. She began work at the Harvard College Observatory while studying at Radcliffe. After earning her Master’s degree in 1924, she worked with Shapley on a photometric survey of the brighter spiral nebulae. The condensations in the spiral arms led them to conclude that the nebulae were likely at great distances. She and Shapley went on to make a catalogue of the positions, angular dimensions, classification, and integrated magnitudes of more than two thousand nebulae, mostly in the Coma-Virgo “cloud.” They concluded that the system “apparently lies at a distance of more than ten million light years, is two million light years in diameter, and is composed of nearly three hundred individual systems” and that there were five or six super-systems of various sizes and at different distances.

After her accidental drowning in 1932, Shapley wrote: 
"In the field of external galaxies she had at the age of thirty one attained an international reputation which was recognized by appointment to the International Committee on Clusters and Nebulae".

Miss Ames was an active participant in the administrative problems of the Observatory and at the time of her death was in general charge of arrangements for the entertainment of the International Astronomical Union at its Cambridge meeting.

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