October 22, 2018
“We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry” – Maria Mitchell. She was born on August 1, 1818, in Nantucket, Massachusetts. She studied astronomy on her own time with the support of her father. In 1847, Mitchell discovered a new comet, which became known as "Miss Mitchell's Comet," gaining her recognition in astronomy circles. She went on to become a professor of astronomy at Vassar College in New York, tracking and taking photos of sunspots with her students.
Astronomer and educator Maria Mitchell was born one of nine children to Quaker parents William and Lydia Mitchell in Nantucket, Massachusetts, where she was raised and received her early education. Mitchell's father, recognizing her interest in the heavens at an early age, encouraged her interest in astronomy and taught her how to use a telescope. She worked as the first librarian at the Nantucket Atheneum library from 1836 to 1856, all the while still gazing at the sky at night, studying solar eclipses, the stars, Jupiter and Saturn.
On October 1, 1847, a 28-year-old Mitchell, while scanning the skies with her telescope atop the roof of her father's place of business, the Pacific National Bank on Main Street in Nantucket, discovered what she was sure was a comet. It turned out that she was right, and that what she had spotted was in fact a new comet, previously uncharted by scientists. The celestial object subsequently became known as "Miss Mitchell's Comet," with the formal title of C/1847 T1. In recognition of her important discovery, Mitchell was presented with a gold medal by Frederick VI, king of Denmark, who had an amateur interest in astronomy himself. Consequently, Mitchell became the first professional female astronomer in the United States.
The breakthrough brought Mitchell respect and recognition among astronomers and other scientists, and in 1848, she became the first woman to be named to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The following year, Mitchell made computations for the American Ephemeris and...