Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin and the Making of Stars

What are stars made of? When a young astronomer upset standard explanations for the formation of the solar system, the establishment told her she was wrong – then stole her findings.

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin at Harvard College Observatory, 1920s. Science History Images/Alamy Stock Photo.

In December 1871 the Prince of Wales lay dangerously ill with typhoid, the disease that had killed his father. Taking advantage of modern technology, the Archbishop of Canterbury despatched telegraph messages around the country ordering special prayers to be read for his recovery. As if by miracle, the patient began to feel better on exactly the tenth anniversary of Prince Albert’s death – but when Queen Victoria staged a grand thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey the nation’s leading scientists declined to attend.

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