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Dorrit Hoffleit

Dorrit Hoffleit
Born (1907-03-12)March 12, 1907
Florence, Alabama
Died April 9, 2007(2007-04-09) (aged 100)
New Haven, Connecticut
Fields Astronomy
Institutions Harvard College Observatory, Ballistic Research Laboratory, Harvard University, Yale University, Maria Mitchell Observatory
Alma mater Radcliffe College
Notable awards Carolyn Wilby Prize

Ellen Dorrit Hoffleit (March 12, 1907 – April 9, 2007)[1] was an American senior research astronomer at Yale University. She is most widely known for her work in variable stars, astrometry, spectroscopy, meteors, and the Bright Star Catalog, as well as her mentorship of many young women and generations of astronomers.[2]


  • Life 1
  • See also 2
  • References 3
  • Further reading 4
  • External links 5


Hoffleit's interest in astronomy started with the 1919 Perseid meteor shower that she saw with her mother.[3] She earned her B.A. in 1928, graduating cum laude in mathematics, before working for the Harvard College Observatory searching for variable stars.[4] She went on to earn her Ph.D. in astronomy from Radcliffe College and was hired as an astronomer at Harvard in 1948. She remained there until moving to Yale in 1956, where she stayed until her 1975 retirement.[5]

At Yale she followed in the footsteps of Ida Barney taking over her astrometric work, of whom she wrote "To know [her] was a pleasure, inspiration, and privilege, both at work and socially."[6] Hoffleit also served as director of the Maria Mitchell Observatory on Nantucket Island from 1957 to 1978, where she ran summer programs (May–October) for more than 100 students, many of whom went on to successful careers in astronomy.[2] In her final years at Yale, Hoffleit was tasked with teaching the most basic course on astronomy to undergraduates. Her passionate lectures in Davies Hall, usually with over 100 students, inspired and awed them. She thus engendered a lifelong interest in astronomy to young men and women, many of whom were simply satisfying a prerequisite to their undergraduate degrees.

She was the author of the Bright Star Catalogue, a compendium of information on the 9,110 brightest stars in the sky; she also co-authored The General Catalogue of Trigonometric Stellar Parallaxes, containing precise distance measurements to 8,112 stars, information critical to understanding the kinematics of the Milky Way galaxy and the evolution of the solar neighborhood. With Harlan J. Smith, Hoffleit discovered the optical variability of the first-discovered quasar 3C 273.[7]

In 1988, Hoffleit was awarded the American Astronomical Society for a lifetime of service to astronomy. She turned 100 on March 12, 2007, and died a month later from complications of cancer.[8]

See also


  1. ^ AAVSO: In Memoriam
  2. ^ a b Dorrit Hoffleit. MISFORTUNES AS BLESSINGS IN DISGUISE: The Story of My Life. American Association of Variable Star Observers.  
  3. ^ Hockey, Thomas (2009). "E. Doritt Hoffleit". The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (  (subscription required)
  4. ^ Hoffleit, Dorritt (1931). "New Variable Stars in MWF 175". Bulletin of Harvard College observatory 884 (10). 
  5. ^ Pearce, Jeremy (April 23, 2007). "Obituary: E. Dorrit Hoffleit, Scientist, Dies at 100".  
  6. ^  
  7. ^ Smith, H. J., & Hoffleit, D. (1963). "Light Variations in the Superluminous Radio Galaxy 3C273". Nature 198 (4881): 650.  
  8. ^ "Dorrit Hoffleit (1907 - 2007)". AAS Newsletter. May–June 2007. 

Further reading

  • "Bibliography: Dorrit Hoffleit". Women in Astronomy.  

External links

  • Dr. Dorrit Hoffleit, member of the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame
  • * Bibliography from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific
  • Papers, 1906-2005. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

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