Harlow Shapley

Harlow Shapley


Date of Birth
November 2, 1885
Date of Death
October 20, 1972

Harlow Shapley earned his bachelor’s degree as a student of Frederick Seares at the University of Missouri in his home state, then wrote an important doctoral dissertation on eclipsing binary stars under Henry Norris Russell at Princeton. From 1914 to 1921 he was at Mt. Wilson Observatory, where he calibrated Henrietta S. Leavitt’s period-luminosity relation for Cepheid variable stars and used it to determine the distances to globular clusters. He boldly and correctly proclaimed that the globulars outline the Galaxy, and that the Galaxy is far larger than was generally believed and centered thousands of light years away in the direction of Sagittarius. In 1920 he held what was later dubbed Astronomy’s Great Debate with Heber D. Curtis on the scale of the universe. From 1921 to 1952 Shapley was director of the Harvard College Observatory. There he studied the Magellanic Clouds and made catalogs of galaxies. He wrote many books and was an important popularizer of science. He founded and developed an outstanding graduate school and moved Harvard’s observing stations from Cambridge, Massachusetts and Arequipa, Peru to Harvard, Massachusetts (some 60 km west of Cambridge) and South Africa, respectively. The president of many organizations and a cofounder of UNESCO, he played a major role in national and international affairs.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Jeffers, Hamilton N., PASP 51, 77-84 (1939).

Other awards

American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Rumford prize, 1933.
American Astronomical Society, Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, 1950.
Franklin Institute, Benjamin Franklin Medal, 1945.
National Academy of Sciences, Henry Draper Medal, 1926.
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1934, presented by F.J.M. Stratton, MNRAS 94, 592-93 (1934).

Some offices held

American Association for the Advancement of Science, President, 1947.
American Astronomical Society, President, 1943-46.

Biographical materials

Bok, Bart J., Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences 49, 241-91 (1978).
Gingerich, Owen, Dictionary of Scientific Biography 12, 345-52.
Gingerich, Owen, “Through Rugged Ways to the Galaxies,” Journal for the History of Astronomy 21, 77-88 (1990).
Glass, Ian, Revolutionaries of the Cosmos: The Astro-Physicists (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, UK, 2005).
Palmeri, Joann, “An Astronomer beyond the Observatory: Harlow Shapley as Prophet of Science,” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Oklahoma, 2000.
Shapley, Harlow, Through Rugged Ways to the Stars (Scribner’s, NY, 1969).
Smith, Horace A. & Virginia Trimble, Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers, 2nd ed. (Springer, NY, 2014), pp. 1048-51.


Bok, Bart J., Sky & Telescope 44, 354-57 (1972).
Bok, Bart J., QJRAS 15, 51-55 (1974).
Goldberg, Leo, Physics Today 26, 107 (Jan. 1973).
Hogg, Helen Sawyer, JRASC 67, 31-3 (1973).
Kopal, Z., Astrophysics & Space Science 18, 258-266 (1972).
Kopal, Zdenek, Nature 240, 429-30 (1972).
Öpik, E, Irish Astron. Journal 10, 302-303 (1972).
Wright, F.W., Mercury 2, 2, 3-4 (1973).


The American Association of Amateur Astronomers
AIP Center for History of Physics (several)
Time Magazine cover, 29 July 1935.

Named after him

Lunar crater Shapley
Minor Planet #1123 Shapleya
American Astronomical Society, The Harlow Shapley Visiting Lectureships In Astronomy
Shapley 1: An Annular Planetary Nebula


Papers, etc.

Shapley’s papers are at the Harvard University Archives. There is a microfilm version of some of his papers.

Other References: Historical

Berendzen, Richard, Richard Hart, & Daniel Seeley, Man Discovers the Galaxies (Science History Publications, 1976).

Bok, Bart J., “Shapley’s Researches on the Magellanic Clouds,” PASP 77, 416-21 (1965).

Croswell, Ken, The Alchemy of the Heavens: Searching for Meaning in the Milky Way (Anchor Books, NY, 1995).

DeVorkin, David H., Henry Norris Russell: Dean of American Astronomers (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, NJ, 2000).

Fernie, J.D., “The Period-Luminosity Relation: A Historical Review,” PASP 81, 707-31 (1969).

Fernie, J.D., “The Historical Quest for the Nature of the Spiral Nebulae,” PASP 82, 1189-1230 (1970)

Gingerich, Owen & Barbara Welther, “Harlow Shapley and the Cepheids,” Sky & Telescope 70, 540 (1985).

Gingerich, Owen, “How Shapley Came to Harvard or, Snatching the Prize from the Jaws of Debate,” JHA 19, 201-07 (1988).

Gingerich, Owen, “Shapley’s Impact,” in Grindlay, Jonathan E. & A.G. Davis Philip, eds., The Harlow-Shapley Symposium on Globular Cluster Systems in Galaxies; Proceedings of the 126th IAU Symposium, Cambridge, MA, Aug. 25-29, 1986 (Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 1988), pp. 23-36.

Gingerich, Owen, “Shapley, Hubble, and Cosmology,” in Edwin Hubble Centennial Symposium, U. of California, Berkeley 1989, ed. by Richard G. Kron (A.S.P. conference series v. 10), 19-21.

Gingerich, Owen, “The Scale of the Universe: A Curtain Raiser in Four Acts and Four Morals,” PASP 108, 1068-72 (1996).

Hoagland, Hudson, “Harlow Shapley — Some Recollections,” PASP 77, 422-30 (1965).

Hoffleit, Dorrit, “The Selector of Highlights: a Brief Biographical Sketch of Harlow Shapley,” JAAVSO, 21, 2, 151-56 (1992).

Hogg, Helen Sawyer, “Harlow Shapley and Globular Clusters,” PASP 77, 336-46 (1965).

Hogg, Helen Sawyer, “Shapley's Era,” in Grindlay, Jonathan E. & A.G. Davis Philip, eds., The Harlow-Shapley Symposium on Globular Cluster Systems in Galaxies; Proceedings of the 126th IAU Symposium, Cambridge, MA, Aug. 25-29, 1986 (Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 1988), pp. 11-22.

Hoskin, M.A., “The ‘Great Debate’: What Really Happened,” JHA 7, 169-82 (1976).

Hoskin, Michael, “Shapley’s Debate,” in Grindlay, Jonathan E. & A.G. Davis Philip, eds., The Harlow-Shapley Symposium on Globular Cluster Systems in Galaxies; Proceedings of the 126th IAU Symposium, Cambridge, MA, Aug. 25-29, 1986 (Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 1988), pp. 3-9.

Kidwell, Peggy, “Harvard Astronomers and World War II: Disruption and Opportunity,” in Clark A. Elliott & Margaret W. Rossiter, eds., Science at Harvard University: Historical Perspectives (Lehigh University Press, Bethlehem, PA, 1992), pp. 285-302.

Kidwell, Peggy, “Harvard Astronomers in the Second World War,” JHA 21, 105-06 (1990).

Kidwell, Peggy, “E.C. Pickering, Lydia Hinchman, Harlow Shapley, and the Beginning of Graduate Work at the Harvard College Observatory,” Astronomy Quarterly 5, (19) 157-71 (1986).

Knowles, Jeremy H., “Harlow Shapley and His Support for the AAVSO,” JAAVSO 26, 69-76 (1997).

Kopal, Zdenek, Of Stars and Men: Reminiscences of an Astronomer (Adam Hilger, 1986).

Mather, Kirtley F., “Harlow Shapley, Man of the World,” The American Scholar 40, 475-481 (1971).

McCarthy, Martin F., “Harlow Shapley and Red Giant Stars,” Grindlay, Jonathan E. & A.G. Davis Philip, eds., The Harlow-Shapley Symposium on Globular Cluster Systems in Galaxies; Proceedings of the 126th IAU Symposium, Cambridge, MA, Aug. 25-29, 1986 (Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 1988), pp. 481-82.

Nemiroff, Robert & Jerry Bonnell, “The Shapley - Curtis Debate in 1920”
This wonderful site offers a great deal of information, including bibliographies.

Payne-Gaposchkin, Cecilia Helena, An Autobiography and Other Recollections, ed. by Katherine Haramundanis (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,UK, 1984).

Peterson, Charles J., “Harlow Shapley and the University of Missouri,” in Grindlay, Jonathan E. & A.G. Davis Philip, eds., The Harlow-Shapley Symposium on Globular Cluster Systems in Galaxies; Proceedings of the 126th IAU Symposium, Cambridge, MA, Aug. 25-29, 1986 (Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 1988), pp. 479-80.

Price, Don K., “The Scientist as Politician,” Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 26, no. 7, 25-34 (1973).

Schalen, Carl, “On Some Problems of Interstellar Absorption,” PASP 77, 409-15 (1965).

Smith, Horace A., “Bailey, Shapley, and Variable Stars,” Journal for the History of Astronomy 31, 185-201 (2000).

Smith, Robert, The Expanding Universe: Astronomy’s ‘Great Debate’ 1900-1931 (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 1982).

Struve, Otto & Velta Zebergs, Astronomy of the 20th Century (Macmillan, NY, 1962).

van de Kamp, Peter, “The Galactocentric Revolution, A Reminiscent Narrative,” PASP 77, 325-35 (1965).

Van Den Bergh, Sidney, “Shapley and Hubble: Different Views Brought Galaxies Into Focus” [letter], Physics Today 57, 9, 15 (2004).

Welther, Barbara L., “Harlow Shapley: A View from the Harvard Archives,” in Grindlay, Jonathan E. & A.G. Davis Philip, eds., The Harlow-Shapley Symposium on Globular Cluster Systems in Galaxies; Proceedings of the 126th IAU Symposium, Cambridge, MA, Aug. 25-29, 1986 (Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 1988), pp. 477-78.

Search ADS for works about Shapley

Other References: Scientific

Shapley, Harlow, “The Perseids of 1910,” Popular Astronomy 18, 486-88 (1910).

Russell, Henry Norris & Harlow Shapley,“On Darkening at the Limb in Eclipsing Variables,” Ap.J. 36, 239 (1912) and 36, 385 (1912).

Shapley, Harlow, “The Orbits of Eighty-Seven Eclipsing Binaries—a Summary,” Ap.J. 38, 158 (1913).

Shapley, Harlow, “Intermediate Degrees of Darkening at the Limb of Stellar Disks with an Application to the Orbit of Algol,” Ap.J. 40, 219 (1914).

Russell, Henry Norris & Harlow Shapley,“On the Distribution of Eclipsing Variable Stars in Space,” Ap.J. 40, 417-34 (1914).

Shapley, Harlow, “On the Nature and Cause of Cepheid Variation,” Ap.J. 40, 448-65 (1914).

Shapley, Harlow, A Study of the Orbits of Eclipsing Binaries (Princeton Observatory, Princeton, NJ, 1915).

Shapley, Harlow & Martha Betz Shapley, “The Light Curve of XX Cygni As a Contribution to the Study of Cepheid Variation,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 1, 452-56 (1915).

Shapley, Harlow, “Studies Based on the Colors and Magnitudes in Stellar Clusters,” Contr. Mt. Wilson Solar Obs., No. 115 (1915); No. 116 (1915); 117 (1916). These three papers are in Ap.J. 45, 118-41 (1917). Further papers in this series include Ap.J. 45, 164-81 (1917), Ap.J. 46, 64-75 (1917); Ap.J. 48, 89-124 (1918); Ap.J. 48, 154-81 (1918); Ap.J. 48, 279-94 (1918); Ap.J. 49, 24-41 (1919); Ap.J. 49, 96-107 (1919); Ap.J. 49, 249-65 (1919); Ap.J. 49, 311-36 (1919) [reprinted in the centennial edition Ap.J. 525C, 109 (1999) with a modern commentary by Owen Gingerich]; Ap.J. 50, 42-49 (1919) [with Martha B. Shapley]; Ap.J. 50, 107-40 (1919) [with Martha B. Shapley]; Ap.J. 51, 49-61 (1920); Ap.J. 51, 140-78 (1920) [with Helen N. Davis]; Ap.J. 52, 73-85 (1920); Ap.J. 52, 232-47 (1920) [with Mary Ritchie]; and Ap.J. 54, 323-33 (1920) [with Myrtle L. Richmond].

Shapley, Harlow, “On the Changes in the Spectrum, Period, and Lightcurve of the Cepheid Variable RR Lyrae,” Ap.J. 43, 217-33 (1916).

Shapley, Harlow & Seth B. Nicholson, “The Orbit and Probable Size of a Very Faint Asteroid (878) Mildred,” Astronomical Journal 30, 127 (1917).

Shapley, Harlow, “Hypothetical Parallaxes of 36 Stars,” PASP 29, 139-40 (1917).

Shapley, Harlow, “The Dimensions of a Globular Cluster,” PASP 29, 245-48 (1917).

Shapley, Harlow, “Globular Clusters and the Structure of the Galactic System,” PASP 30, 42-54 (1918).

Shapley, Harlow, “Note on the Explanation of the Absence of Globular Clusters from the Mid-Galactic Regions,” Observatory 42, 82-84 (1919).

Shapley, Harlow, “On the Existence of External Galaxies,” PASP 31, 261-68 (1919).

Shapley, Harlow & J.C. Duncan, “Novae in the Andromeda Nebula,” PASP 31, 280-81 (1919).

Shapley, Harlow, “Note on the Simple Device for Increasing a Photo-Graphic Power of Large Telescopes,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 6, 127-30 (1920).

Shapley, Harlow, “Novae and Variable Stars,” PASP 33, 185-93 (1921).

Shapley, Harlow and Heber D. Curtis, “The Scale of the Universe,” Bull. Nat. Res. Council 2, 171-217 (1921) [ the published version of the “Great Debate”].

Shapley, Harlow, “Note on the Problem of Great Stellar Distances,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 8, 69-71 (1922).

Shapley, Harlow, “Note on the Velocities and Magnitudes of External Galaxies,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 15, 565-70 (1929).

Shapley, Harlow & Adelaide Ames, “A Survey of the External Galaxies Brighter than the Thirteenth Magnitude,” Ann. Harvard Col. Obs. 88, 41-76 (1932) [the famous Shapley-Ames Catalog].

Shapley, Harlow, “A Contribution to the Study of Galactic Dimensions,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 19, 29-34 (1933).

Shapley, Harlow, “On the Distribution of Galaxies,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 19, 389-93 (1933).

Shapley, Harlow, “On the Linear Diameters of 125 Large Galaxies,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 19, 1001-06 (1933).

Shapley, Harlow, “On Some Structural Features of the Metagalaxy (George Darwin Lecture),” MNRAS 94, 791-816 (1934).

Shapley, Harlow, “A Catalogue of 7,889 External Galaxies in Horologium and Surrounding Regions,” Ann. Harvard Col. Obs. 88, 5, 105-62 (1935).

Luyten, Willem & Harlow Shapley, “A Preliminary Discussion of the Stream Motions of 85,000 Faint Proper- Motion Stars,” Ann. Harvard Col. Obs. 105, 397-402 (1937).

Shapley, Harlow, “Galactic and Extragalactic Studies, VIII. A New Determination of the Period-Luminosity Curve,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 26, 541-48 (1940).

Shapley, Harlow & Rebecca B. Jones, “Galactic and Extragalactic Studies, IX. A Photometric Survey of 22,000 Galaxies in the Zone from δ = +41 Degrees to δ = +46 Degrees,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 26, 554-61 (1940).

Shapley, Harlow, “Galactic and Extragalactic Studies, XI. Note on the Period Frequency of Galactic Cepheids,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 26, 681-88 (1940).

Shapley, Harlow, “Magellanic Clouds. I. Transparency,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 37, 133-38 (1951).

Shapley, Harlow & Virginia McKibben Nail, “Magellanic Clouds. II. Supergiant Red Variable Stars in the Small Cloud,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 37, 138-45 (1951).

Usher, P.D., B.S.P. Shen, F.W. Wright, H. Shapley, & C.M. Hanley, “Long-Term Behavior of the Seyfert Galaxy 3C 120,” Ap.J. 158, 535-39 (1969).

Search ADS for works by Shapley

Other Works: Popularizations, Fiction, etc.

Shapley, Harlow, “Astronomy in Horace,” Popular Astronomy 17, 397-401 (1900).

Shapley, Harlow, “Curious Lunar Theories of an Ancient Scientist,” Popular Astronomy 18, 132-36 (1910).

Shapley, Harlow, “The Age of the Earth,” PASP 30, 283-98 (1918).

Shapley, Harlow, “Star Clusters and Their Contribution to Knowledge of the Universe,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 58, 337-45 (1919).

Shapley, Harlow, “The Galactic System,” Pop. Astr. 31, 316-28 (1923).

Shapley, Harlow, Starlight (George H. Doran Co., NY, 1926).

Shapley, Harlow, The Stars (American Library Association., Chicago, IL, 1927).

Shapley, Harlow & Helen E. Howarth, eds., A Source Book in Astronomy (McGraw-Hill, NY, 1929).

Shapley, Harlow, Flights from Chaos; a Survey of Material Systems from Atoms to Galaxies, Adapted from Lectures at the College of the City of New York, Class of 1872 Foundation (McGraw-Hill, NY, 1930).

Shapley, Harlow, “Ten Unsolved Mysteries of the Stellar Universe,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 69, 13-17 (1930).

Shapley, Harlow, Star Clusters: Thirty-four Globular Clusters in the Southern Milky Way (McGraw-Hill, NY, 1930) [Harvard Observatory Monographs No. 2].

Shapley, Harlow, Time and Its Mysteries, 3 vols. (New York Univ. Press, NY, 1936-49).

Shapley, Harlow, “Notes on Thomas Jefferson as a Natural Philosopher,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 87, 234-37 (1943).

Shapley, Harlow, Galaxies (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1943, 1961, 1972 [3rd ed. revised by Paul Hodge]).

Shapley, Harlow, Samuel Rapport, & Helen Wright, eds., A Treasury of Science (Harper & Row, NY, 1943, 1946, 1954, 1958, 1963, 1965).

Shapley, Harlow, “Must We Climb Steeples?” Journal of Higher Education 18, 447-59 (1947).

Shapley, Harlow, Helen Wright, & Samuel Rapport, eds., Readings in the Physical Sciences (Appleton-Century-Crofts, NY, 1948).

Shapley, Harlow, “Galactic Rotation and Cosmic Seasons,” Sky & Telescope 9, 36 (1949).

Shapley, Harlow, “Cosmic Science and the Social Order,” Science 109, 399-401 (1949).

Shapley, Harlow, The Inner Metagalaxy (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, UK & Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, CT, 1957).

Shapley, Harlow, “On the Astronomical High Lights of a Half Century,” Irish Astronomical Journal 5, 190-94 (1959).

Shapley, Harlow, Of Stars and Men: Human Response to an Expanding Universe (Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, 1958, 1964, 1984).

Shapley, Harlow, Science Ponders Religion (Appleton-Century-Crofts, NY, 1960).

Shapley, Harlow, ed., A Source Book in Astronomy, 1900-1950 (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1960).

Shapley, Harlow, The View from a Distant Star; Man’s Future in the Universe (Basic Books, NY, 1963).

Shapley, Harlow, Beyond the Observatory (Scribner, NY, 1967).