Aug 2, 2013

Maria Mitchell: Star-Gazer Becomes Trail-Blazer



Each week, here at Myth Beliefs, I would like to feature a "This Week in History"-style article, focusing on something or someone remarkable from history, legend or myth which ties to that week.  I am a bit behind this week, but I hope to make this a regular post on Thursdays.  This week, one item, in particular, caught my attention. 

As some of you may have noticed, Google's "Doodle" yesterday marked the birthday of Maria Mitchell.  One of the most notable astronomers of all time, male or female, "Miss Mitchell" was the first professional, female astronomer.  As Space.com mentioned,  "Mitchell discovered a comet in 1847 by searching the skies with a telescope on the roof of the bank where her father worked in Nantucket, Mass."

This comet became known as "Miss Mitchell's comet."

For this discovery, she was awarded a gold medal by the king of Denmark.  She went on to become a professor of astronomy at Vassar College, where she taught for over 20 years before retiring.  

Astronomy is a science replete with references to men making discoveries, men like Galileo and Copernicus, to name two.  For this reason, I applaud Google's decision to mark what would have been Mitchell's 195th birthday yesterday.  

Moreover, the science of astronomy is, in some ways, built upon foundations begun in "astrology." Astrology is an important area of study - as well as a belief system - for many.  It has been said, for example, that Presidents and world leaders have often looked to the stars for guidance.  

You can read more about this remarkable astronomer whose star-gazing led to trail-blazing at Space.com's article honoring her.  There is also an excellent article at GlobalSpec discussing the near debacle over awarding discovery honors to Father Francesco de Vico, who actually discovered the comet two days after Mitchell.  Ultimately, Mitchell received full honors for the discovery.


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