Cosmos’ Sisters of the Sun: Women Can Be Scientists Too

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey comes out on DVD on June 10th!
I have written earlier about how Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey disinterests me, but I have always held onto the hope that if it was just a little more tightly written, I would become a convert. Well, the last two episodes of Cosmos have been strong, but I still don’t have a particular fondness of the show. It’s not Cosmos; it’s me.

“Sisters of the Sun” formed cohesively around the theme of women of the stars from myths of constellations to the actual female scientists (Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Cecilia Payne). The visuals of the starscapes under a desert night sky created a strong urge to go camping. I don’t really have much else to say. Subaru is the Japanese name for the constellation Pleiades and is apparent in its logo.
As always, Cosmos has a moral. Last time, it was to be skeptical of what big company scientists tell you. In this episode, Cecilia Payne’s dissertation would have caused a splash four years earlier if she had just stuck to her guns (though realistically, she might have just been laughed out of the scientific community). Unlike last week’s rebel, Clair Patterson’s whose revolutionary findings were met with threats, bribes, and trickery, Cecilia Payne’s dissertation was met with pity by Henry Norris Russell.
What if You're Right and They're Wrong?
However, Cosmos has an older, wiser Payne claim to a class of students that she should have just ovaried up. If only she had borrowed Lester Nygaard’s inspirational but blood splattered poster: What if You’re Right and They’re Wrong. Nevertheless, I think she gets to join another star-studded affair: Ban Bossy. This program takes a semantic approach to reduce gender bias at work and schools.

While I didn’t find Cosmos to be specifically encouraging young girls to enter the sciences, it does attempt to show what a rewarding, warm environment the Harvard Computers were.

Last fun fact of the day, Cecilia Payne was only twenty-five when she wrote her what astronomer Otto Struve called “undoubtedly the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy.” I bet Henry Russell felt pretty silly later.


To learn more about the Harvard Computers or “Pickering’s Harem,” check out Memory Palace’s episode 400,000 stars.

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