Dorrit Hoffleit

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]

Dorrit Hoffleit
Born(1907-03-12)March 12, 1907
DiedApril 9, 2007(2007-04-09) (aged 100)
Alma materRadcliffe College
AwardsCaroline Wilby Prize
George Van Biesbroeck Prize (1988)
Scientific career
InstitutionsHarvard College Observatory, Ballistic Research Laboratory, Harvard University, Yale University, Maria Mitchell Observatory


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, and of whom she later 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.

During the mid 1950s, Hoffleit consulted for the U.S. Army's Ballistic Research Laboratories in "Doppler reductions."[7]

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.[8]

In 1988, Hoffleit was awarded the George Van Biesbroeck Prize by 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.[9]

See also


  1. Saladyga, Michael; Waagen, Elizabeth (2010-05-02). "In Memoriam: Dorrit Hoffleit |".
  2. Dorrit Hoffleit (2002). MISFORTUNES AS BLESSINGS IN DISGUISE: The Story of My Life. American Association of Variable Star Observers. ISBN 978-1-878174-48-2.
  3. Horch, Elliott (2007). "Hofflet, Ellen Dorrit". In Hockey, Thomas; Trimble, Virginia; Williams, Thomas R. (eds.). Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers. New York: Springer Publishing. doi:10.1007/978-0-387-30400-7_636. ISBN 978-0-387-30400-7. (subscription required)
  4. Hoffleit, Dorritt (1931). "New Variable Stars in MWF 175". Bulletin of the Harvard College Observatory. 884 (10): 10. Bibcode:1931BHarO.884...10H.
  5. Pearce, Jeremy (April 23, 2007). "Obituary: E. Dorrit Hoffleit, Scientist, Dies at 100". The New York Times. Retrieved November 19, 2012.
  6. Hoffleit, E. Dorrit (June 1990), "Ida M. Barney, Ace Astrometrist" (PDF), STATUS: The Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy, American Astronomical Society, archived from the original (PDF) on 5 April 2016, retrieved 17 November 2012
  7. Ballistic Research Laboratories. Ordnance Corps, Department of the Army. April 1955.
  8. Smith, H. J. & Hoffleit, D. (1963). "Light Variations in the Superluminous Radio Galaxy 3C273". Nature. 198 (4881): 650. Bibcode:1963Natur.198..650S. doi:10.1038/198650a0.
  9. "Dorrit Hoffleit (1907 - 2007)". AAS Newsletter. May–June 2007.

Further reading

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