Maria Mitchell’s Birthday Party

Untitled-1August 1st marks the 197th birthday of Maria Mitchell, who was born at 1 Vestal Street in 1818.  To celebrate her life and legacy, the Maria Mitchell Association invites the public to an afternoon full of free activities and refreshments on Friday July 31st.  The MMA campus on Vestal Street will be free to the public from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.  Children’s activities will be offered throughout the afternoon including: face painting, tours, nature and astronomy-themed games and activities, and even insect races! 

Maria Mitchell was the first Mitchell child born at 1 Vestal St., the first librarian at the Nantucket Atheneum, the first woman to receive a gold medal from the King of Denmark for discovering a comet, one of the first women to work for the U.S. government, and the first woman to gain access to the Vatican’s Observatory.  Of course, she was also the first female astronomer in the U.S.,-best known for her discovery of a comet named Comet Mitchell and her service as the first female professor of Astronomy in the U.S. at Vassar College.  The MMA was founded in 1902 to promote and celebrate Mitchell’s legacy of learning-by-doing, women in education, and education sciences. 

Change in Admission Prices

Starting today, July 6th, nonmember visitors to any of the MMA museums will buy a pass that includes all of our properties, rather than paying admission to each museum individually. The pass is only $10 for adults and $8 for kids. We want to make it easy for visitors to see all our sites- there is so much to do and so much to learn! MMA members will of course continue to enjoy free admission to all our museums. Please drop by to see what is new!

12 Events to Note


The Nantucket Red-Tie Soirée has been featured by Nantucket BlACKbook as one of the top 12 events this summer.  Tickets are available on our webpage or by calling 508-228-9198.  Read more here

Director of Astronomy Leaving MMA

After over 2 and a half years at the Maria Mitchell Association, Dr. Michael West, Director of Astronomy, will be leaving MMA at the end of July to begin a new and exciting position as Deputy Director for Science at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ. Lowell Observatory is where Pluto was discovered in 1930, and it’s also home to the new “Discovery Channel Telescope.” Additionally, the first observations of the expanding universe took place at Lowell.  It is interesting to note that Lowell Observatory shares a very similar mission as MMA with both institutions focusing their efforts and resources on astronomical research, as well as public outreach. Located just an hour from the Grand Canyon, the observatory receives more than 80,000 visitors per year. Dr. West noted that the combination of hands-on-learning and public outreach at MMA prepared him well for this opportunity. Michael’s presence at MMA will certainly be missed and we all wish him well.

We are pleased to report that a search to fill the astronomy position is already underway and we have received an excellent pool of candidates with exceptional experience. The search committee will be working diligently to fill this critical position as soon as possible.

Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii

6b25c397-7be0-4432-bb12-dd46f3e4424dYou might have seen news coverage in recent weeks about the controversy surrounding the planned construction of the giant new Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) in Hawaii. It’s a sad situation, a clash of cultures each with different and valid worldviews.

At issue is the TMT’s planned location on Maunakea, a dormant volcano that is revered as a sacred site by some Native Hawaiians, who regard it as the place that connects the islands of Hawaii to the sky father, Wakea. Even the name, Maunakea, comes from Ka Mauna a Wakea, which means “Wakea’s mountain” in the Hawaiian language. To some Native Hawaiians, the proposed building of a giant new telescope on this mountain is desecration of sacred land, and protests have erupted over TMT construction.

What makes Maunakea so special to astronomers is its location. Surrounded by thousands of miles of open sea, the mountain is blessed with exceptionally stable air and clear skies. And at a height of 14,000 feet, telescopes there stand above nearly half our planet’s atmosphere. This yields some of the sharpest and most detailed views of the universe obtainable anywhere on earth, without the blurriness that usually occurs when light from stars and galaxies passes through earth’s turbulent air.

Last month, 31 protestors were arrested for blocking the road to the mountain’s summit. The TMT, which legally has the right to proceed, has temporarily halted construction in an effort to find a peaceful compromise if possible. It’s a complex issue, and how it will end is anybody’s guess.

Today at 5:44 pm, WCAI (Cape and Islands NPR) will air a short interview that I did with Steve Junker about the TMT controversy. If you’re interested, you can listen live on the radio or stream it at your leisure at:

Cape & Island NPR

If you’d like to know more about the TMT controversy, you’ll find lots of diverse views at the following links:

Thirty Meter Telescope
New York Times
Protect Mauna Kea
Smithsonian Magazine
Sacred Mauna Kea

Scientific American also invited me to write an op-ed piece about the TMT controversy; it will be published in the July print issue of the magazine if you’re interested.

Best Regards,
Dr. Michael West

2015 Birdathon


Thank you to all who participated and contributed to the 2015 Nantucket Birdathon!  The final species count was 111 species.  We had 16 birders separated into three teams and each team added important species to the list.  This year was not particularly easy though, as we all had to work hard to find relatively common species.  However, highlights include:

Little blue heron
Black-throated green warbler                               See the List
Baltimore orioles
Eastern whip-poor-wills

Please take part in the bird walks offered by the MMA and the Linda Loring Nature Foundation, or visit the MMA’s ornithology collection to see Birdathon funds put to use!

5pm May 15 – 5pm May 16

This is the time of year when the MMA and the Linda Loring Nature Foundation (LLNF) raise funds to help preserve scientific specimens and support bird related programs and field trips.  The MMA protects over 1000 bird specimens dating to the late 1800′s and leads town bird walks.  Vern Laux, Senior Naturalist at LLNF, leads weekly bird trips across the island and the LLNF property on Eel Point Rd provides excellent bird watching.

The annual Nantucket Birdathon is instrumental in supporting these activities.  Please join birdingus in promoting and preserving Nantucket’s bird life by contributing to the Birdathon.  You can even come birding with us!

To support the Nantucket Birdathon, you can pledge an amount per species seen (we see fewer than 140 species and a typical pledge is $0.50 to $1 per species) by calling us at 508-228-9198.  You can mail contributions (download the contribution form here) to:
Maria Mitchell Association
4 Vestal St.
Nantucket MA, 02554

Or donate online! (put Birdathon in the ‘Other’ field for additional information)

If you’d like to join us birding, email Andrew Mckenna-Foster.

Thank you for your support!

Happy Birthday Hubble

On April 24, 25 years ago, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into space. Hubble has circled the Earth more than 130,000 times, and the stunningly clear images that it has sent back from above our planet’s atmosphere have revolutionized our understanding of the universe.

To celebrate Hubble’s 25 anniversary, NASA has release this beautiful new image of a star forming region known as Westerlund 2.


You can find out more about this image here.

There is, understandably, a lot of media coverage of Hubble this week.

A few sites that you might find especially interesting are:

Unforgettable Hubble Space Telescope Photos

The Hubble Telescope: 25 Years of Images From Space

Modest but Momentous: Hubble’s Brilliant, Unsung Images

I’m happy to report that an astronomer colleague (Dr, Michael Gregg, UC Davis) and I have new Hubble observations scheduled for next week, we’re studying how galaxies are transformed when they move from rural to urban regions of the cosmos.

And if you live far enough south (Nantucket is pushing it) you can even see the Hubble Space Telescope when it passes over your home. You can find dates and times for your location by visiting this website.

Best Regards,

-Dr. Michael West



Daffodil Day 2015

Celebrate Daffodil Weekend with the Maria Mitchell Association1

Book Signing at Mitchell’s Book Corner, 10AM-11AM

Our Deputy Director and Curator of the Mitchell House, Archives, and Special Collections, Jascin Leonardo Finger, has been asked to do a book signing at Mitchell’s Book Corner.  She will be signing her book Daring Daughters of Nantucket: How Island Women from the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Centuries Lived a Life Contrary to Other American Women.

‘Sconset Tailgate Party, 1PM-3PM

Follow the antique cars down to ‘Sconset where we will be hosting our picnic to celebrate Daffodil Day. Come look through our solar telescope to see the sun in a whole new light! A surprise creature will be making an appearance as well.


David Gagnon named Executive Director

The Board of Directors of the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association have selected Mr. David Gagnon of Brattleboro, Vermont to take over as Executive Director of the 114-year-old Nantucket nonprofit science center.  Mr. Gagnon was selected after a nationwide search that began in August, 2014.


Dave most recently served as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) for the Organic Trade Association (OTA) in Brattleboro, VT, a role he filled since 2006. As COO, Dave oversaw fundraising and development, IT, HR, membership, facilities and finance for the organization. OTA’s mission is to promote and protect organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public, and the economy. Prior to his work at OTA David and his wife Shelley Dresser served as the co-Executive Directors of the Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center in Southern Vermont. Bonnyvale’s programs included research, summer camps, and citizen science, with a dynamic school out-reach program.

“We are delighted to have Dave join us”, says John Daniels, board President and acting Executive Director.  “He’s an experienced leader with a strong non-profit management, fundraising and science background.  We believe he is just the person to take our science research, educational programs and campus facilities to the next level.”

“I have a love for the environment and a deep respect for Nantucket,” says Dave.  “I spent a lot of time on the island and I’m excited to bring my passion about nature to the students and researchers associated with MMA. My family and I are looking forward to becoming part of this vibrant community.”

Dave holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Massachusetts in Environmental Studies and a Master’s Degree from Yale University from the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

April 13-18 is International Dark Sky Week


April 13-18 is International Dark Sky Week,
a time to celebrate and preserve the wonders of the night sky.

Did you know that 2/3 of Americans can’t see the
Milky Way where they live because of light pollution?


We’re lucky here on Nantucket because skies are still dark, but if we don’t work together to reduce light pollution then we could lose our spectacular skies someday too.
Find out more here.

For an amazing timelapse video from the International Space Station, check out The New York Time‘s website here.

-Dr. Michael West