Silent Sky for Educators

 

May 31 through June 16, 2019, the Playhouse brings the touching story of a woman’s determination to study astronomy to the stage when we present Silent Sky.  It is our hope that this play may not only entertain, but also inspire our audience—especially young women—to pursue their passions and make an impact on the world with STEM education. 

To help educators and their students more easily enjoy this beautiful story, we are providing STEM-SUPPORT TICKET PRICING for the entire run of Silent Sky. Use the code SKY10 at checkout and pay only $10 per ticket compared to $29 for Student regularly-priced tickets and $36 for Adult regularly-priced tickets. All educators and students are welcome to take advantage of this special offer.

We have also compiled a set of resources below to help facilitate classroom discussion on the work that Henrietta Levitt did and the legacy she left to science.

 

 They set their sights on the stars and changed science forever.   

This true story of the 19th-century astronomers, Silent Sky explores a woman’s place in society during a time of immense scientific discoveries when women’s ideas were dismissed until men claimed credit for them. Social progress, like scientific progress, can be hard to see when one is trapped among earthly complications.

 

Silent Sky Synopsis

It is 1900, and the bright young student, Henrietta Leavitt, has the opportunity to work at the Harvard College Observatory as a human computer. When Henrietta arrives, she is eager to use Harvard’s telescope — the Great Refractor — but is told that as a woman, she is not allowed to do any sort of direct astronomical observation. Her job is to measure and catalog the brightness of stars as they appeared in the observatory’s photographic plate collection. Henrietta is not discouraged and begins the process of recording the changes she sees in the photographs of Cepheid stars.

During her inquiry, Henrietta’s relationships strain under her obsessive work ethic; her sister Margaret, her love interest Peter Shaw, and her colleagues Annie Cannon and Williamina Fleming all find themselves pushed aside in favor of a great cosmic mystery. 

Silent Sky is the poignant tale of a woman’s dedication to the stars, and the human touch that makes life under the vast sky beautiful and timeless. Her subsequent scientific discovery has a profound and lasting impact on the field of astronomy.

 

About Henrietta’s work

Leavitt’s discoveries, related to the luminosity of a class of stars known as Cepheid variables, provided the key to measuring the distance between Earth and other galaxies, eventually paving the way for better-known astronomers such as Edwin Hubble.

 

For classroom discussion

  • Henrietta was fascinated by astronomy and believed there was so much more that could be learned about the universe. What areas of science do you feel inspired to study? Why?
  • Though they were the top of their classes in mathematics, Henrietta and the other “calculators” were not allowed to use the telescope because they were women. Was that fair? Why?
  • Henrietta didn’t give up and her work paid off in an important discovery that continues to influence astronomy today. Talk about the qualities. 

 

Classroom activity ideas

https://betterlesson.com/lesson/635919/investigating-star-brightness-distance

https://astrocampschool.org/brightness-of-stars/

 

Web resources

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henrietta_Swan_Leavitt

Heroes of Space https://www.spaceanswers.com/astronomy/heroes-of-space-henrietta-swan-leavitt-2/

Space.com https://www.space.com/34708-henrietta-swan-leavitt-biography.html

PBS https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/baleav.html

NASA https://www.nasa.gov/

 

Video resources

Henrietta Leavitt & the Human Computers: Great Minds https://youtu.be/2FrY6gRPC7k

Henrietta Swan Leavitt: American Astronomer | MSNBC https://youtu.be/L8vmkC1LThc

 

Additional reading

For 4 to 8 year olds:

Robert Burleigh, author 

Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer 

https://www.amazon.com/Look-Up-Henrietta-Pioneering-Astronomer/dp/1416958193/

 

For older students:

George Johnson, author

Miss Leavitt’s Stars: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Discovered How to Measure the Universe

https://www.amazon.com/Miss-Leavitts-Stars-Discovered-Discoveries/dp/0393328562