Henry Norris Russell

Henry Norris Russell


Date of Birth
October 25, 1877
Date of Death
February 18, 1957

Henry Norris Russell spent six decades at Princeton University — as student, professor, observatory director, and active professor emeritus. From 1921 on he also made lengthy annual visits to the Mt. Wilson Observatory. He measured parallaxes in Cambridge, England, with A.R. Hinks and found a correlation between spectral types and absolute magnitudes of stars — the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. He popularized the distinction between giant stars and “dwarfs” while developing an early theory of stellar evolution. With his student, Harlow Shapley, he analyzed light from eclipsing binary stars to determine stellar masses. Later he and his assistant, Charlotte E. Moore Sitterly, determined masses of thousands of binary stars using statistical methods. With Walter S. Adams Russell applied Meghnad Saha’s theory of ionization to stellar atmospheres and determined elemental abundances, confirming Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin’s discovery that the stars are composed mostly of hydrogen. Russell applied the Bohr theory of the atom to atomic spectra and with Harvard physicist F.A. Saunders made an important contribution to atomic physics, Russell-Saunders coupling (also known as LS coupling). Russell and his Princeton colleagues, R.S. Dugan and J.Q. Stewart, wrote what was for decades the most important astronomy textbook in the United States. Called the “Dean of American astronomers,” Russell was a dominant force in the community as a teacher, writer, and advisor.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Black, A.L., PASP 37, 2-6 (1925).

Other awards

Académie des Sciences, Lalande Prize, 1922.
American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Rumford prize, 1925.
American Astronomical Society, Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, 1946.
Franklin Institute, Ben Franklin medal, 1934.
National Academy of Sciences, Henry Draper Medal, 1922.
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1921, presented by A. Fowler, MNRAS 81, 334-50 (1921).

Some offices held

American Association for the Advancement of Science, President, 1933.
American Astronomical Society, President, 1934-37.

Biographical materials

Chapman, D.M.F., “Reflections: Henry Norris Russell,” JRASC 96, 191 (2002).
Cogan, Bruce C., Dictionary of Scientific Biography 12, 17-24.
DeVorkin, David, “Henry Norris Russell,” Sci. Amer. 260, 5, 126 (1989).
DeVorkin, David H., Henry Norris Russell: Dean of American Astronomers (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, NJ, 2000) [Excerpt].
Leitch, Alexander, “Henry Norris Russell,” in A Princeton Companion (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1978).
Russell, Henry Norris, in Thirteen Americans: Their Spritual Autobiographies, ed. by Louis Finkelstein (Kennikat Press, Port Washington, NY, 1953), 31-45.
Shapley, H., Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Science 32, 354-78.
Stratton, F.J.M., Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 3, 173-191 (1957).
Tenn, Joseph S., “Henry Norris Russell: The Twentieth Bruce Medalist,” Mercury 22, 5, 19 (1993).


Joy, Alfred H., Griffith Observer 21, 8, ? (Aug. 1957).
Menzel, Donald, Yearbook, American Philosophical Society, 1958. 139-143.
Moore, Charlotte E., Observatory 77, 67-68 (1957).
Öpik, E., Irish Astronomical Journal 4, 192 (1957).
Spitzer, Lyman, Jr., Science 125, 1133-34 (1957).
Stewart, John Q., MNRAS 118, 311-12 (1958).
Struve, Otto, PASP 69, 223-226 (1957).


AIP Center for History of Physics [several]
Princeton University: Astrophysics Faculty in 1949

Named after him

Lunar crater Russell
Martian crater Russell
Minor Planet #1762 Russell
American Astronomical Society, Henry Norris Russell Lectureship
Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram (with Ejnar Hertzsprung)
Vogt-Russell (or Russell-Vogt) Theorem (with Heinrich Vogt)


Papers, etc.

Henry Norris Russell papers are at Princeton University Library. They were microfilmed for the American Institute of Physics, Center for History of Physics, 45 microfilm reels; + guide. Oral history interviews at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives with Henry Norris Russell, Jr., Charlotte Moore Sitterly, Harlow Shapley, Lyman Spitzer, Jr., Martin Schwarzschild, Margaret Russell Edmondson, and Frank Edmondson all contain information about Russell.

Other References: Historical

Armitage, Angus, A Century of Astronomy (Sampson Low, London, 1950).

Arny, Thomas, “The Star Makers: a History of the Theories of Stellar Structure and Evolution,” Vistas in Astronomy 33, 2, 211-33 (1990).

DeVorkin, David, “Steps Toward the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram,” Physics Today 31, 3, 32-9 (1978).

DeVorkin, David and Ralph Kenat, “Quantum Physics and the Stars (I): The establishment of a stellar temperature scale,” JHA 14, 102-32 (1983); “Quantum Physics and the Stars (II): Henry Norris Russell and the abundances of the elements in the Sun and stars,” JHA 14, 180-222 (1983); “Quantum Physics and the Stars (III): Henry Norris Russell and the Search for a Rational Theory of Stellar Spectra, JHA 21, 157-186 (1990).

DeVorkin, David H., “A Fox Raiding the Hedgehogs: How Henry Norris Russell Got to Mount Wilson,” in The Earth, the Heavens, and the Carnegie Institution of Washington, ed. by Gregory Good (Washington, 1994), pp. 103-11.

Dyson, Frank Watson, “Advances in Astronomy,” Royal Institution Library of Science: Astronomy, p. 239-42.

Eggen, Olin, “Stellar Kinematics and Evolution,” Vistas in Astronomy 12, 367-414 (1970).

Hearnshaw, J. B., The Analysis of Starlight (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1986).

Hufbauer, Karl, “Astronomers Take Up the Stellar Energy Problem,” Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences 11, 2, 277-303 (1981).

Kopal, Zdenek, Of Stars and Men (Adam Hilger, Bristol & Boston, 1986).

Kron, Katherine G., “Henry Norris Russell (1877 1957): Some Recollections,” Vistas in Astronomy 12, 3-6 (1970).

Menzel, Donald H., “The History of Astronomical Spectroscopy,” Annals NY Acad. Sci. 198, 225-234 and 235-244 (1972).

Moore-Sitterly, Charlotte E., “Collaboration with Henry Norris Russell over the Years,” in A.G.D. Philip & D.H. DeVorkin, eds., The HR Diagram, In Memory of Henry Norris Russell. IAU Symposium No. 80, held November 2, 1977, at the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC. (Dudley Observatory, Albany, Ny, 1977), pp. 27-42.

Nielsen, Axel V., “Contributions to the History of the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram,” Centaurus 9, 219-253 (1963).

Philip, A.G. Davis & David H. DeVorkin, eds., In memory of Henry Norris Russell, sessions I and II of IAU symposium no. 80, The HR diagram, held at the National Academy of Sciences (Dudley Observatory, Albany, NY, 1977.) [includes a bibliography and papers by Louis C. Green, Frank Bradshaw Wood, Charlotte Moore-Sitterly, Robert D’e. Atkinson, and the editors.]

Philip, A.G. Davis & Louis C. Green, “Henry Norris Russell and the H-R Diagram,” Sky & Telescope 55, 306 (1978).

Russell, Henry Norris, “Introductory Remarks to the Symposium: the H-R Diagram,” Astronomical Journal 57, 1 (1952).

Sitterly, Bancroft W., “Changing Interpretations of the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram, 1910-1940: A Historical Note,” Vistas in Astronomy 12, 357-366 (1970).

Strömgren, Bengt, “On the Chemical Composition of the Solar Atmosphere,” Festschrift für Elis Strömgren (Eina Munksgaard, Copenhagen, 1940), pp. 218-57.

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

Szafraniec, R., “Henry Norris Russell’s Contribution to the Study of Eclipsing Variables,” Vistas in Astronomy 12, 7-20 (1970).

Waterfield, R.L., “The Story of the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram,” J. Brit. Astron. Assoc., 67, 1-24 (1956).

Wood, Frank Bradshaw, ed., “The Henry Norris Russell Memorial Volume,” Vistas in Astronomy 12, 1-426 (1970).

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Other References: Scientific

Russell, Henry Norris, “A New Graphical Method of Determining the Elements of a Double-star Orbit,” Astronomical Journal 19, 9-10 (1898).

Russell, Henry Norris, “The Densities of the Variable Stars of the Algol Type.” Ap.J. 10,315-18 (1899).

Russell, Henry Norris, “An Improved Method of Calculating the Orbit of a Spectroscopic Binary,” Ap.J. 15, 252-60 (1920).

Hinks, Arthur R. & Henry Norris Russell, “The Parallax of Eight Stars, from Photographs Taken at the Cambridge Observatory,” MNRAS 67, 132-35 (1906).

Russell, Henry Norris, “On the Origin of Binary Stars,” Ap.J. 31, 185-207 (1910).

Russell, Henry Norris, “Determinations of Stellar Parallax [From Photographs Taken at the Cambridge Observatory (England) by Arthur R. Hinks and the Writer]),” Astronomical Journal 26, 147-59 (1910).

Russell, Henry Norris, “On the Determination of the Orbital Elements of Eclipsing Variable Stars,” Ap.J. 35, 315-40 (1912) and 36, 54-74 (1912).

Russell, Henry Norris, “‘Giant’ and ‘Dwarf’ Stars,” Observatory 36, 324-29 (1913).

Russell, Henry Norris, “Relations between the Spectra and Other Characteristics of the Stars,” Popular Astronomy 22, 275-294, 331-351, (1914). [excerpted with commentary in Lang, Kenneth R. & Owen Gingerich, eds., A Source Book in Astronomy & Astrophysics, 1900-1975 (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1979), 212-20 and also in Shapley, Harlow, ed., Source Book in Astronomy, 1900-1950 (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1960), 253-62.]

Russell, Henry Norris, “The Stellar Magnitudes of the Sun, Moon, and Planets,” Ap.J. 43, 103-29 (1916).

Russell, Henry Norris, Mary Fowler, Martha C. Borton, Ernestine Fuller, & Edward C. Pickering, “Photographic Determinations of the Position of the Moon,” Annals of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College 80, 192-219 (1917).

Russell, Henry Norris, “On the Sources of Stellar Energy,” PASP 31, 205-211 (1919).

Russell, Henry Norris, “Variable Stars,” Science 49, 127-139 (1919).

Russell, Henry Norris, “On the Origin of Periodic Comets,” Astronomical Journal 33, 49-61 (1920).

Russell, Henry Norris, “The Probable Diameters of the Stars,” PASP 32, 307 (1920).

Russell, Henry Norris, Photographic Determinations of the Position of the Moon (1921).

Russell, Henry Norris, Modifying our Ideas of Nature: The Einstein Theory of Relativity (In Smithsonian Institution Annual Report, 1921, p. 197-211.)

Russell, Henry Norris, “The Theory of Ionization and the Sun-Spot Spectrum, Ap.J. 55, 119-44 (1922).

Russell, Henry Norris, “On the Calculation of Masses from Spectroscopic Parallaxes, Ap.J. 55, 238-241 (1922).

Russell, Henry Norris, Recent Advances in Stellar Astronomy: Three Lectures at Rice Institute, Jan. 26-28, 1922. Rice Inst. Pamphlet 9, 41-109 (1922).

Russell, H.N., W.S. Adams, & A.H. Joy, “A Comparison of Spectroscopic and Dynamical Parallaxes,” PASP, 35, 189-93 (1923).

Russell, H.N. & F.A. Saunders, “New Regularities in the Spectra of the Alkaline Earths,” Ap.J. 61, 38-69 (1925).

Russell, Henry Norris, “A List of Ultimate and Penultimate Lines of Astrophysical Interest,” Ap.J. 61, 223-83 (1925).

Russell, H.N., “Note on the Relations between the Mass, Temperature, and Luminosity of a Gaseous Star,” MNRAS 85, 935-39 (1925).

Russell, H.N., “The Intensities of Lines in Multiplets. I. Theory,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 11, 314-22 (1925).

Russell, H.N., “The Intensities of Lines in Multiplets. II. Observed Data,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 11, 322-28 (1925).

Russell, Henry Norris, The Constitution and Evolution of the Stars. 1925. (Reprinted from Smithsonian Report for 1923, p. 145-158).

Russell, Henry Norris, “The Application of Modern Physics to Astronomy,” [condensed report by H.F. Balmer of a series of lectures presented at the University of Toronto] JRASC 18, 126-129 [description and table of contents], 137-164, 201-223, 233-263 (1924).

Russell, H.N. & F.A. Saunders, “New Regularities in the Spectra of the Alkaline Earths,” Ap.J. 61, 38-69 (1925).

Saunders, F.A. & H.N. Russell, “On the Spectrum of Ionized Calcium (Ca II),” Ap.J. 62, 1-7 (1925).

Russell, Henry Norris, Raymond Smith Dugan, & John Quincy Stewart, Astronomy: A Revision of Youn’s Manual of Astronomy (Ginn & Co., Boston, 1926-27, 1938, 1945) [influential textbook].

Moore, Charlotte E. & Henry Norris Russell, “On the Winged Lines in the Solar Spectrum,” Ap.J. 62, 1-12 (1926).

Russell, Henry Norris, “On the Relations Between Period, Luminosity, and Spectrum among Cepheids,” Ap.J. 66, 122-34 (1927).

Adams, Walter S. & Henry Norris Russell, “Preliminary Results of a New Method for the Analysis of Stellar Spectra,” Ap.J. 68, 9-36 (1928).

Moore, Charlotte E. & Henry Norris Russell, “The Presence of Predicted Iron Lines in the Solar Spectrum and the Terms in the Arc Spectrum of Iron,” Ap.J. 68, 151-64 (1928).

Russell, Henry Norris, “On the Composition of the Sun’s Atmosphere,” Ap. J. 70, 11-82 (1929). [excerpted with commentary in Lang, Kenneth R. & Owen Gingerich, eds., A Source Book in Astronomy & Astrophysics, 1900-1975 Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1979), 243-44, 248-53. ]

Russell, Henry Norris & Charlotte E. Moore, “Dynamical Parallaxes of 1777 Double Stars,” Astronomical Journal 39, 165-207 (1929).

Russell, Henry Norris, The Composition of the Sun (Reprinted from the Smithsonian Report for 1931, p.199-214)

Russell, Henry Norris, “Notes on the Constitution of the Stars,” MNRAS 91, 951-966 (1931) & 92, 147 (1931).

Russell, Henry Norris & Donald H. Menzel, “The Terrestrial Abundance of the Permanent Gases,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 19, 997-1001 (1933).

Russell, Henry Norris, “The Atmospheres of the Planets,” Science 81, 1-9 (1935) [Address of the retiring president of the AAAS].

Russell, Henry Norris, “The Analysis of Spectra and its Application in Astronomy,” MNRAS 95, 610-36 (1935) [George Darwin Lecture].

Russell, Henry Norris, The Solar System and Its Origin (Macmillan, NY, 1935).

Russell, Henry Norris, “Model Stars,” Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 43, 49-77 (1937).

Russell, Henry Norris & Charlotte E. Moore, “A Comparison of Spectroscopic and Trigonometric Parallaxes,” Ap.J. 87, 389-423 (1938).

Russell, Henry Norris & Charlotte E. Moore, The Masses of the Stars with a General Gatalogue of Dynamical Parallaxes (Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1940).

Russell, Henry Norris & Charlotte E. Moore, “The Systematic and Accidental Errors of Spectroscopic Parallaxes,” Ap.J. 92, 354-91 (1940).

Russell, Henry Norris, Distribution of Density within the Stars. 1939. (Reprinted in Annals NY Acad Sci 41, 5-12, (1941).

Russell, Henry Norris, “Present State of the Theory of Stellar Evolution ,“ Scientific Monthly 55, 233-38 (1942).

Russell, Henry Norris, “The Royal Road of Eclipses,” in Centennial Symposia, ed. by C. Payne Gaposchkin (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1948), pp. 181-209.

Russell, Henry Norris & John Ellsworth Merrill, The Determination of the Elements of Eclipsing Binaries, (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, NJ, 1952).

Russell, Henry Norris, “Magellanic Clouds. XIII. Comparison of Magellanic and Galactic Eclipsing Variables,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 40, 549-50 (1954).

Russell, Henry Norris, “Eclipsing Variables in the Magellanic Clouds,” Vistas in Astronomy 2, 1177-86 (1956).

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Other Works: Popularizations, History, etc.

Russell published a column in nearly every issue of Scientific American from 1900 to 1943.

Russell, Henry Norris, “Relations between the Spectra and Other Characteristics of the Stars,” Proc. Amer. Phil. Soc. 51, 569-79 (1912).

Russell, Henry Norris, Fate and Freedom (Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, CT, 1927).

Russell, Henry Norris, “Review of The Internal Constitution of the Stars by A.S. Eddington, ” Ap.J. 67, 83 (1928).

Russell, Henry Norris, “The Master Key of Science: Revealing the Universe through the Spectroscope,” Scientific Monthly 34, 487-491 (1932).

Russell, Henry Norris, “Stellar Energy,” Proc. Amer. Phil. Soc. 81, 295-307 (1939). [Excerpted in Shapley, Harlow, ed., Source Book in Astronomy, 1900-1950 (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1960), 233-42.]

Russell, Henry Norris, “Anthropocentrism’s Demise,” Sci. Amer. 168, 18-19 (1943).

Russell, Henry Norris, “Determinism and Responsibility,” Science 97, 249-53 (1943).

Russell, Henry Norris, “America’s Role in the Development of Astronomy,” Proc. Amer. Phil. Soc. 91, 10-16 (1947).

Russell, Henry Norris, “The Time Scale of the Universe,” Time and Its Mysteries Series III (NYU Press, NY, 1949), pp. 3-30.