Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Maria Mitchell Biography

      Born on August 1, 1818 in Nantucket, Massachusetts Maria Mitchell was the third out of ten children in a Quaker family.  She was mostly self educated except for the short period of time when she attended a school specifically for girls.  At age seventeen she opened her own school (basically just a room that she had rented).  Shortly after she became a librarian at Nantucket’s Atheneum Library. 
     Maria Mitchell most likely developed a passion for astronomy when her father used an observatory to conduct observations for the U.S. Coast Guard.  In 1847, she discovered her first comet.  Aware of her discovery, Maria’s father informed a Harvard professor of this who then contacted the king of Denmark who offered Maria a gold medal because she discovered a comet using only a telescope.  However, before Maria Mitchell could receive the award, it was given to a Roman man because he had seen the comet two days later than her, but his information arrived to Denmark much earlier.  News spread of her discovery and many tourists wanted to see the “woman astronomer”.  In 1848 she was the first woman member of the  American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  In 1850, the Association for the Advancement of Science did the same.  After these accomplishments she was hired by the U.S. Nautical Almanac to compute the locations of Venus.  Later in 1865, she became professor of astronomy and director of the observatory at Vassar College, a liberal arts college in New York.  She passed away in 1889 and is most well-known for the "Maria Mitchell comet" that she discovered.

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