She was one of the "computers" who worked at the Harvard College Observatory at the beginning of the 20th century. She was hearing impaired but this did not deter her from her studies. She volunteered at Harvard College observatory in 1893 at the age of 25 where she worked on the accurate measurements of the brightness of stars. Her most important work was the discovery of the period-luminosity relation of Cepheid variable stars. "It is worthy of notice", she observed, that "the brighter variables have the longer periods." Cepheids are stars that fade and brighten in a regular fashion. This relation is one of the fundamental building blocks in the yardstick by which astronomers measure distances to galaxies and far-away objects. Interestedly, in 1925 after her death the Swedish mathematician Gösta Mittag-Leffler wrote to her saying he was seriously inclined to nominate her for the Nobel Prize. Unfortunately Nobel prizes are not awarded posthumously. Who knows what might have happened had she lived longer. Her work was that important.
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