When Henrietta Leavitt begins work at the Harvard Observatory in 1895, she isn’t allowed to touch a telescope or express an original idea. Instead, she joins a group of women “computers,” charting the stars for a renowned astronomer who calculates projects in “girl hours” and has no time for the women’s probing theories.
Driven by a desire to understand the universe, Ms. Leavitt charts a group of stars called Cepheids and discovers the period-luminosity law that enables astronomers to estimate the distance from the earth to stars based on their brightness. In short, Ms. Leavitt discovered how to measure the universe, one of the most significant discoveries in the history of astronomy.
This is the story in “Silent Sky,” a play by Lauren Gunderson opening March 24 in Marshall Auditorium on the Alpine campus of Sul Ross State University.
“I didn’t learn about Henrietta Leavitt or her esteemed colleagues, Annie Jump Cannon and Williamina Fleming, when I was growing up,” said Director and Associate Professor of Communication and Theatre Marjie Scott. “Women were largely left out of the history books, especially when it came to scientific discoveries. I want people to know about Henrietta Leavitt. Her name should be as familiar as Hubble’s. Ms. Leavitt’s work changed the way astronomers understand the universe and how vast it really is. She fought for her place at the table and had immense passion for her work, and it changed the world.”
“Silent Sky” stars Olivia Pertuso (Alpine), Justin Hinton (Dallas), Yaritza Corona (El Paso), Jaina Brooks (Odessa) and Jenna Reyes (Alpine). In addition to Scott’s direction, the set design is by Ross Fleming with sound design by Bret Scott and lighting design by Adrian Soto (El Paso).
Sponsored by the Sul Ross Theatre Program, the show runs weekends March 24-April 2 in Marshall Auditorium in the Morelock Academic Building. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $10 for children 12 and under and seniors 65-plus, and free for veterans and active military. “Silent Sky” is appropriate for all audiences.