Astronomer Spotlight: Maria Mitchell

When does science go beyond math and logic and transform into beauty and art?

Maria Mitchell was the first female astronomer in the United States and dedicated her life to learning. Mitchell was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts on August 1st, 1818. Her father helped inspire her passion for astronomy and let her use his telescope. In 1847, Mitchell tracked the orbit of a new comet. This discovery brought Mitchell into the public scene in many science circles and she was the first female elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was also awarded a gold medal by the King of Denmark for the discovery of the comet.

 After traveling Europe for several years and meeting many prominent scientists, Mitchell returned home to Massachusetts and lived with her father. By 1865, she was director of the observatory and an astronomy professor at Vassar Female College. It was at the college that Mitchell said she truly felt at home and she found much joy in teaching her students. At the observatory, Mitchell studied sun spots and discovered that rather than clouds, sun spots were whirling vertical cavities. She later helped found the Association for the Advancement of Women and served as its president for a year before her death. Mitchell’s legacy lives on today through the Maria Mitchell Association in Nantucket. This organization is dedicated to promoting research, science, and education in the Nantucket community.

Besides being one of the leading scientists in astronomy for her time, Mitchell pioneered the way for women in STEM and dedicated her life to educating and bringing opportunities for the people in her community. Back to Space is also pushing the boundaries of STEM and providing opportunities for teens around America by promoting STEM in pop culture. Mitchell once said “we especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry” and through blogs, videos, art, and music, Back to Space is bringing imagination and creativity to STEM. What the night taught Mitchell, she taught other women, so they too could unlock the secrets of the sky above. With Back to Space, we hope to open that door to space exploration to countless others too.

Post by ambassador Becca Blum

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