Covered in Snow

Nantucket made national news this week as winter storm Juno dumped almost a foot of snow. Drifts piled high with 45mph winds and gusts to more than 70mph. The island lost power for nearly twelve hours due to flooding of the power substation downtown.

Luckily, all of the animals survived! Now the task is to dig out.

Vestal Street Observatory and the snow-filled courtyard.

Vestal Street Observatory and the snow-filled courtyard.

Observatory @150dpi

Mitchell House, covered in an icy, inch-thick layer of snow.

Mitchell House, covered in an icy, inch-thick layer of snow.

Hinchman House is covered and glistening in the sun.

Hinchman House is covered and glistening in the sun.

The back of Hinchman House has been shoveled out.

The back of Hinchman House has been shoveled out.


REU Student Wins Honorable Mention at AAS Convention

The prestigious Chambliss Prize is awarded each year at the American Astronomical Society meeting for the best student posters. I’m delighted to report that Jonathan Jackson, a Harvard student and summer 2014 astronomy REU intern here at MMA, won Honorable Mention.

Jonathan was co-supervised by former MMA astronomy intern Gretchen Harris, one of “Dorrit’s girls” from years ago who’s now a professor of astronomy in Canada.

reu-jonathan-jackson-aas-2015Congratulations to Jonathan!

Read more about the presentations, winners and honorable mentions here.

-Dr. Michael West

Comet Lovejoy

Comet Lovejoy is still visible from Nantucket or anywhere in North America. The comet is quite bright at the moment. If you’re in a dark location with no moonlight to interfere then you should be able to see it with the naked eye. But it’ll look more impressive through binoculars.

Here’s a map of where you can find Comet Lovejoy in the sky each night during January. It’s not far from the easily recognizable constellation of Orion the hunter, and the line of three stars that make up Orion’s belt make a convenient pointer to find the comet.


Comet Lovejoy’s tail isn’t very impressive, so don’t expect to see it even with binoculars. What you will see is a fuzzy green object – the heart of the comet. Give it a try!

-Dr. Michael West, Director of Astronomy

MMA, REU Interns Attend American Astronomical Society Conference

There are nearly 3000 astronomers from across the country and beyond in attendance here at this week-long conference. The MMA was very well represented!


Happiness is our summer 2014 astronomy REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) students presenting their research results to such a distinguished audience. The students above are (clockwise): Emily Longley (Carleton College), Katie Butler (Agnes Scott College), Meg Panetta (Harvard) and Jonathan Jackson (Harvard). REU student Aquiel Warner (Yale) also had a poster yesterday and Emma Dahl (Whitman College) has one today.

We’ve been promoting up a storm for MMA and Maria Mitchell’s legacy through twitter (hashtag #aas225 for tweets related to the conference), networking and other opportunities to engage the astronomical community and the public. As you can see below, the American Astronomical Society even retweeted an announcement to its members about our summer research program in astronomy, a great opportunity to encourage more student applications.


MMA astronomer and telescope engineer Gary Walker also presents a poster on some of his research today, and I had a poster on Monday.

We’re very proud of our astronomy students, past and present, MMA couldn’t ask for better ambassadors!

- Dr. Michael West

2014 Year in Review: Achievements in Space

Planets among the stars

Image courtesy of NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

2014 Was an amazing year for achievements in space, and the Maria Mitchell Association was proud to be a part of some of the events!

Achievements Include (and are not limited to!):
First Comet Landing
Orion Launch and Hopes of Reaching Mars
Discovery of a Planet in the Habitable Zone
Fuel to the Theory of Other Universes

Read the full article by Dr. Michael West in the January 2, 2015 issue of the Inquirer and Mirror or view online.

MMA Science Library Conservation Update

Wayne Morris fills pillow anchors that have been inserted into the Library's exterior walls.

Wayne Morris fills pillow anchors that have been inserted into the Library’s exterior walls.

The mason has cut into the crack that runs across the north façade of the building and around the east side all the way to where the east meets the southern façade.  Pillow anchors are being inserted and filled with grout.  He is blazing through his special wet saw blade due to the toughness and thickness of the stucco on the building – a special saw had to be purchased just for this project.  The photograph here shows him filling the pillow anchors – this part is easy compared to the sawing which requires a lot of his own strength to continually push the saw in to make the cuts (exhausting and not easy).

Keep posted with regular updates as the Science Library becomes the MMA’s new ecology lab/classroom and natural science collections storage on Maria Mitchell’s Attic.


Astronomy Director Visits NASA for Historic Orion Launch


NASA invited MMA astronomer Dr. Michael West to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for a behind-the-scenes look at preparations for the launch of the new Orion spacecraft, which will someday take humans to Mars. Highlights included meeting with astronauts, climbing inside a life-size mockup of the Orion capsule, standing in the Mission Control room used for all the Apollo moon landings, and, of course, the successful launch of Orion. It was also an opportunity to promote Maria Mitchell’s legacy as an astronomer to NASA and its many followers on social media.

To read more about Dr. Michael West experiences, check out our Facebook page, West’s twitter feed, and article in the Inquirer and Mirror.

2015 Barn Owl Nest Box Program

Help support the MMA’s research and conservation efforts with these fascinating and beneficial birds! Due to the severe winter of 2013 and 2014, the Barn Owl population was reduced by more than half. Since, more than 20 Barn Owl Boxes were added in 2014.

You can now adopt a Barn Owl Nest Box, a tax deductible gift!

What adopting a Barn Owl Nest Box means:

  • the sponsored box(es) will be checked in the spring or spring and fall;
  • the box(es) will be cleaned if no owls are home or as needed if occupied;
  • small repairs will be made on the box;
  • you receive a personal report on each box you sponsor;
  • you receive an island-wide summary of the owl population each year;
  • notice of when the box(es) will be checked so that you, family and friends can be present. If adults and young are found, the opportunity to assist in the Banding;
  • most importantly, you will be supporting MMA’s Science Research Programs and MMA’s Internship Program.

barn owl 2Read Dr. Bob Kennedy’s letter to learn more about the program.

Over $78,000 Research Grant from Hubble Space Telescope

Dr. Michael West and his colleague Dr. Michael Gregg of the University of California, Davis, have been awarded a research grant of $78,573 from Hubble Space Telescope in support of their project “Morphological Transformation in the Coma Cluster.”

The first Hubble Space Telescope observations for this project will begin in January 2015.
To hear more at that time, subscribe to AstroAlerts or check back here!