Barnard 33 was discovered by the astronomer Williamina Fleming. She was not only a woman astronomer, which was rare in 1881, but came to the profession by accident. Fleming was born in Scotland and moved with her husband to the United States as a young woman. When her husband left her while she was pregnant, she was hired as the maid of Harvard professor Edward Charles Pickering, who was also the director of the college’s observatory. Later, he hired Fleming as a sort of secretary at the observatory. She was ultimately hired to catalogue stars when Pickering grew disgusted with his slacking male assistants and claimed Fleming, a mere housekeeper, could do better than they could. He was right.
Fleming invented a system where she catalogued stars depending on the hydrogen in their spectra. The spectrum is a band of color into which the light of a star can be separated. They’re the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. The mnemonic used to remember this spectrum is name, ROY G BIV. Molecules, atoms and ions radiate most strongly at certain colors.
Fleming found more than 10,000 stars, as well as other deep space objects. These stars were later grouped into the Henry Draper Catalogue. Of course, for a long time Fleming’s boss, Mr. Pickering, got the credit for her work. She discovered Barnard 33, or the Horsehead Nebula in 1888, on plate B2312.