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Profile of the Day: Maria Mitchell

Profile of the Day: Maria Mitchell

Maria Mitchell

Today we celebrate the 200th birthday of pioneering astronomer Maria Mitchell! Mitchell is best remembered for discovering a new comet, which became known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.” She is often recognized as the first professional female astronomer in the United States.

Mitchell was born on August 1, 1818 in Nantucket, Massachusetts. The third of ten children, Mitchell grew up in a family of Quakers. Her father was a school teacher and encouraged Mitchell’s interest in astronomy by teaching her how to use a telescope. She worked as a librarian by day and spent her nights observing the sky on the roof of the Pacific National Bank where her father worked.

In 1847, Mitchell discovered and charted the orbit of a new comet, which became known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.” After publishing her discovery, Mitchell became internationally famous and was presented with a gold medal by King Fredrick VI of Denmark. In 1848, she became the first woman to be named to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Later in life, she became the first female professor of astronomy at Vassar College, where she continued to teach physics and astronomy until her retirement in 1888. She died a year later on June 28, 1889 at the age of 70 in Lynn, Massachusetts.

How are you related to Maria Mitchell? Explore her family tree and share your connection to the astronomy pioneer!

View Maria Mitchell’s Geni Profile


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Image: Wikimedia Commons


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