Maria Mitchell Observatory

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Loines Observatory of the Maria Mitchell Association

The Maria Mitchell Observatory in Nantucket, Massachusetts, USA, was founded in 1908 and named in honor of Maria Mitchell, the first American woman astronomer. It is a major component of the Maria Mitchell Association. The Observatory actually consists of two observatories - the main Maria Mitchell Observatory near downtown Nantucket and the Loines Observatory about a kilometer west of town. It is also the repository for a valuable collection of over 8000 wide-field (13° x 16°) glass photographic plates, recording observations of large swaths of sky from 1913 to 1995.

The observatory has extensive public education and research programs. For more than 50 years, the observatory has offered summer research internships in astronomy and astrophysics for undergraduate students, funded by the National Science Foundation. The importance of this work was recognized with a 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring, given by President Barack Obama to the Maria Mitchell Association.[1] [2]

The two observatories consist of three domed telescopes. The Vestal street location houses research offices as well as the 17-inch Plane Wave Dall-Kirkham telescope. This telescope was installed in 2008 after the completion of the Loines Observatory. The Loines Observatory houses the historic 7.5-inch Alvan Clark refractor, which is used for public stargazing. At this location there is also the larger 24-inch Richey-Chretian reflecting telescope, installed in 2006, which has been made accessible for public tours. Both the 17-inch and the 24-inch telescopes are also used for research year round.


Michael West is the current Director of the Maria Mitchell Observatory. He received his PhD in astronomy from Yale University in 1987. His previous experience includes positions as Head of Science in Chile for the European Southern Observatory, Head of Science Operations at Gemini Observatory and Professor of Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. His research focuses on star clusters, the birth and death of galaxies, and the large–scale structure of the universe and he is a frequent user of leading telescopes around the world and the Hubble Space Telescope. He is also dedicated to public outreach, having overseen astronomy content development for the 28 million dollar NASA-funded Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii and authored a book titled A Gentle Rain of Starlight: The Story of Astronomy on Mauna Kea. He currently leads a working group for the International Astronomical Union on New Ways of Communicating Astronomy with the Public.

Past Directors of the Maria Mitchell Observatory:

  • Margaret Harwood (1912-1957)
  • Dorrit Hoffleit (1957-1978)
  • Emilia Belserene (1978-1991)
  • Eileen Friel (1991-1996)
  • Vladimir Strelnitski (1997-2013)

Astronomer Gary Walker is the observatory's telescope engineer. An aeronautical engineer by training, he has spent more than 30 years observing, building telescopes and observatories, photographing the heavens, and making photometric measurements of variable stars with CCD cameras. He is a past president of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) and currently holds the office of secretary of the organization.


  1. ^ "President Honors Outstanding Science, Math, Engineering Teachers and Mentors". White House press release. Retrieved July 9, 2009. 
  2. ^ "Maria Mitchell Association at the White House". Inquirer and Mirror. Retrieved January 8, 2010. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°16′48″N 70°06′18″W / 41.28000°N 70.10500°W / 41.28000; -70.10500