AAS Meeting #194 - Chicago, Illinois, May/June 1999
Session 60. My Most Memorable AAS Meeting
Topical, Oral, Tuesday, June 1, 1999, 4:15-6:00pm, International Ballroom South

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[60.05] Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, Henry Norris Russell Lecture: Fifty Years of Novae

E.M. Burbidge (University of California, San Diego)

It is easy to pick out my most memorable meeting of the AAS: the 149th meeting held in January, 1977, and hosted by the University of Hawaii, in Honolulu, HI. It was the meeting at which two traditions of the Society were broken, and we moved into the era of equal opportunity for women astronomers. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin received the highest award of the AAS: the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship. This award had never before been available to women, otherwise Cecilia would, years earlier, have been honored for the many achievements in her lifetime of renowned astronomical research. And I, the first woman to be elected President of the AAS, had the honor of presenting the illuminated scroll to Cecilia, and of introducing her on the platform where she delivered the Henry Norris Russell Prize Lecture, entitled ``Fifty Years of Novae"1.

Cecilia opened by comparing the experience of young and old scientists in achieving exciting results from their research, and then led us through the history of the discoveries of and about some famous novae. She described the physical picture that emerged from studies of their light curves, their spectra, and the discovery of their binary nature. Three important tables were included, listing data on cataclysmic binaries (dwarf novae) and their link to the nova phenomenon in general. She recalled that she and Sergei Gaposchkin had hesitated between the names catastrophic and cataclysmic for the dwarf novae, and decided on the latter, from the dictionary definitions of those two terms: ``a cataclysm is a great and general flood" while a catastrophe ``is a final event". The nova phenomenon is recurrent, as are the dwarf novae, and both involve an outpouring of a flood of energy. She concluded by describing her 50 years' experience with novae as presenting ``the contemporary portrait of a nova", rather than a final picture, and by forecasting that the next 50 years of discovering and studying novae will be as full of surprises as the last.

1 Cecilia H. Payne-Gaposchkin, 1977, AJ, 82, 665.

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