Who was Maria Mitchell?

The astronomer is best known for her discovery of a comet, which later came to be known as ‘Miss Mitchell’s Comet.

Maria Mitchell was the first professional female astronomer in the United States. She is best known for her discovery of a comet, which later came to be known as ‘Miss Mitchell’s Comet

Maria Mitchell was born in 1818 in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Her father was a school principal and an amateur astronomer who helped her develop interest in science and astronomy at an early age. Maria would spend hours observing the night sky through a telescope and help her father in such calculations as predicting annual eclipses. Through her jobs as a teacher and later as a librarian, Maria Mitchell kept her passion for astronomy alive. Her success in establishing the orbit of a new comet in 1847 gained her international repute. She received a gold medal from the King of Denmark for this discovery.

Later, she took up a job as professor of astronomy at Vassar College in New York. Mitchell and her students continuously tracked and photographed sunspots. She was the first to find that sunspots were whirling vertical cavities and not clouds, as had been earlier believed. In 1882, she documented Venus traversing the sun-one of the rarest planetary alignments known to man.

Maria Mitchell was also a well-known proponent of equal rights-she fought relentlessly for women as well as for blacks. The school that she started admitted black children at a time when segregation was common in the US. At Vassar College, she demanded and got equal pay when she realised that her junior male colleagues were paid more.

Picture Credit : Google 

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