Thursday, September 28, 2006

First professional astronomer in the U.S.

Is the continue of Some Interestion on Science..........

Maria Mitchell lived during the mid-1800s: a turbulent time when women were thought to be unworthy of higher education. Raised on Nantucket, in a broad-minded Quaker family, Maria rose above the prejudices that ruled her day to become the US's first professional astronomer.

Few girls of the time were lucky enough to have a father as broad-minded as William Mitchell. He taught her how to use a telescope, how to calibrate a chronometer, and encouraged her talent for science and mathematics. One of her earliest accomplishments was calibrating a chronometer (an instrument on which the safety of the crew depended) for Captain Chadwick, when her father was away. Unlike the other Mitchell children who found astronomy tedious, Maria quickly grasped mathematical principles and loved doing complicated calculations. At 16, Maria became a teaching assistant to a schoolmaster. The doors of the best colleges in the US were closed to her as a woman, and she could not immediately consider a professional career in astronomy. She later became a librarian and devoted her evenings to the study of the stars. Her position as a librarian also allowed her to continue her self-study of astronomy.

William Mitchell was loaned a telescope to conduct observations for the US Coast Survey, and Maria began to assist him. In 1847, Maria discovered a comet using their rooftop telescope. For this discovery, the King of Denmark gave her a medal. Her discovery also made her a celebrity and allowed her to travel widely through the U.S. and Europe. Maria set up an observatory behind the schoolhouse in Nantucket. She studied sunspots and double stars and wrote papers about astronomical events.

No comments: