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Maria Mitchell Google Doodle Honors First Female Astronomer


American astronomer Maria Mitchell is celebrated in today’s Google Doodle. Born 195 years ago today, she discovered a new comet in 1847, which later became known as Miss Mitchell’s Comet.

The Doodle primarily depicts Mitchell the night she discovered the new comet bearing her name. Google’s special logo forgoes the usual thick lettering for a thinner version of the Google font, in slightly faded colors.

Mitchell is shown on a rooftop, which partially eclipses the G and the two Google Os. She’s peering into a telescope, representing the L in Google.

An observatory dome can be seen to the right of the house, slightly covering the Google E. A starry night with trails of comets appears throughout the background.

maria-mitchell-telescopeMitchell periodically went up on her roof with the family’s 2-inch telescope to “sweep the heavens,” according to her journal entries. On October 1, 1847, she discovered a streak in her telescope. She continued to monitor its movement and two days later, its discovery was recorded to in a letter to Cambridge University.

While others around the world had observed the comet as well, her journal entries and tracking showed she was the first to notice it. Her journaling would later lead to determining the orbit of the comet.

At the time, only a handful of comets were known to mankind. But King Frederick VI of Denmark offered a prize every time a new comet was discovered. Her discovery earned her a gold medal from the king of Denmark and immediate international attention.

Mitchell marveled at the colors of the night sky. In a journal entry dated February 1855, she noted: “I amused myself with noticing the varieties of color. I wonder that I have so long been insensible to this charm in the skies, the tints of the different stars are so delicate in their variety…. What a pity that some of our manufacturers shouldn’t be able to steal the secret of dyestuffs from the stars.”

In 1865, Mitchell was appointed the Vassar College faculty, making her the first female astronomy professor in the United States and the first person ever appointed to their faculty. Additionally, she was appointed director of the Vassar College Observatory.

Throughout her career, she observed numerous sunspots, comets, nebulae, stars, and the moons for both Saturn and Jupiter. Believing observation was most important aspect of learning, she took her students across the U.S. to Colorado in 1878 to observe a total solar eclipse.

After realizing her pay was less than that of her male counterparts, she successfully demanded an increase in her salary. She co-founded the American Association for the Advancement of Women and was an avid protestor for the women’s suffrage movement and anti-slavery movement. In 1994, she was posthumously inducted to the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

In 1908, The Maria Mitchell Observatory was founded and named in her honor in her hometown of Nantucket. The Mitchell Crater on the moon is also named in her honor. Her telescope is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History.

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