Nantucket Nights: What do you and Wine have in Common?


Dr. Michael West, Director of Astronomy, explores the wonders of the universe in his weekly Nantucket Nights column for the Inquirer & Mirror newspaper. This week, he discusses how, like a vintage wine, we’re children of a unique place and time. He writes:

Wine is bottled poetry,” Robert Louis Stevenson said.

But, like poems, no two wines are exactly alike. Climate and soil give distinctive characteristics to grapes from different regions. A Chardonnay from France has a different taste and aroma than one from California, Chile or Australia.

Even wines from the same vineyard vary from year to year depending on temperatures, the amount of rainfall and other variables that make some vintages more prized than others. Every bottle of wine is a product of a specific place and time.

We are too. As psychologist Carl Jung observed, “We are born at a given moment, in a given place and, like vintage years of wine, we have the qualities of the year and of the season of which we are born.” 

You can read the full column online or in print by subscribing to the I&M.

Native Tree Program

The Nantucket Rotary Club and the Maria Mitchell Association
to bring native trees to Nantucket’s 5th graders!


With help from the Nantucket Rotary Club, the Maria Mitchell Association’s Education Director Kim Botelho is working with the Nantucket Elementary School, the Nantucket New School, and the Nantucket Lighthouse School to teach 5th graders around the island about tree morphology.

Students will choose from red maple, red cedar, sassafras, basswood, or black cherry seedlings and learn about their specific species. Students also learn about how planting trees now can benefit not only students of the future, and can also help build a habitat for native animals. We are delighted to see the student’s enthusiasm!

The Nantucket Land Bank has been generous enough to let students
who cannot plant trees at home do so on Land Bank property.
Keep an eye out for the seedlings, and watch them grow!

Witnessing the First Comet Landing

Philae lands on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko November 12, 2014.

Witnessing history is a remarkable feeling. Watching the live-feed from the European Space Agency’s control room, staff of the Maria Mitchell Association anxiously awaited news that Philae, a washing-machine sized probe, landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. At approximately 11:00AM on November 12, the live feed (and MMA staff half a world away) erupted with joy as contact was confirmed.

Located a mere 310 million miles from Earth, the journey of Rosetta, the orbiter, and Philae was long awaited. Launching in April of 2004, Rosetta finally met the comet in August after a series of rotations around the earth. It took several years for Rosetta to catch up to the comet, which travels at approximately 85,000 mph through space.

Initial concerns of how Philae fared in the landing were on our minds. News trickled in that several problems had occurred during contact. Harpoons designed to secure the lander to the surface of the comet to prevent bouncing upon landing did not fire. The lander bounced twice, with the first bounce lasting for almost two hours, and the second bounce lasting several minutes. Worries of damage were the main concern.

By the morning of November 13, concerns were eased when a modest photo of Philae’s foot was released by the European Space Agency. The MMA looks forward to more news and information about the comet.

To read more about the landing, visit the European Space Agency’s website here.

Lizards on Nantucket?

Brown Anole captured on Nantucket. Photo credit: Coco Csaba Cseko.

Brown Anole. Photo credit Coco Csaba Cseko

There is no lizard that can survive the winters on Nantucket, however, that does not mean there are no lizards on Nantucket!  On October 7, Coco Csaba Cseko, from Flowers on Chestnut, found and captured a brown anole (Anolis snagrei) among the shop’s flowers. He donated it to the MMA Natural Science Museum where it now happily resides.

We knew these lizards are regularly introduced to Nantucket in shipments of flowers and plants (there are rumors of them marauding around the Bartlett greenhouses), but we had never received the actual animal.

Brown Anoles are native to Cuba and the Bahamas, but have been introduced around the world. Until the Nantucket winters get much warmer, these lizards will not be able to survive outdoors and this is a good thing- they will eat anything that fits in their mouths, a potential disaster to our native frogs and insects.

As an interesting side note, in 2009, a Cuban tree frog was captured at Flowers on Chestnut.  This species has the same range as the brown anoles and has also been Cuban Tree Frog on Nantucket. Photo Credit Eric LoPrestiintroduced all over the place.  It is a terrible invasive species in the southeast USA.  The frog is still alive but is becoming elderly.

Thanks to Coco for for catching the lizard and thinking of us!


Spiritual Light in a Dark Cosmos

Please join MMA astronomer Michael West, research physician and MMA Board Member Malcolm MacNab, and patent lawyer Bill Sherman for an enlightening and interesting presentation and discussion on science and religion.

Light Refreshments will be served.

Co-sponsored by St Paul’s Church and MMA.

The event will be held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Parish (20 Fair Street) on
Tuesday, September 23rd from 7PM – 8:30PM.


Spider Myths of Nantucket


Do you know someone who was bitten by a brown recluse on Nantucket?  Have you ever wondered if you should exercise an extra 15 minutes to burn off the calories from eating eight spiders every year while you sleep?  Throughout the year we get a plethora of spider questions and unfortunately, many are based on misinformation!

By far the biggest number of questions and comments concern the ever elusive brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa).  It is especially elusive here on Nantucket because, as far as we know, it does not live here.  There has never been a specimen recorded here and we have a collection of over 6,000 spiders from eight years of searching.  In fact, brown recluse are not even found in the Northeast.  They range from the Midwest east to Tennessee and north into Ohio.  There is always a chance a traveler might bring one accidentally in luggage, but it is super unlikely.  Many of the necrotic wounds that people blame on brown recluse are really infections from a Streptococcus bacteria.  These infections can start in even the tiniest of wounds and both the infection and an actual brown recluse bite are treated with antibiotics.  The only way to easily know if a wound is from a brown recluse is if a person catches the spider in the act of biting him or her and gets the specimen identified by a trained arachnologist.  Doctors are smart, but they do not always have all the information!


A brown recluse. Picture from Wikipedia

There is a very common myth that we eat eight spiders a year while asleep.  Something about the spiders searching for water and unknowingly walking into our mouths (assuming our snoring does not scare them away first).  There is no evidence for this at all.  We definitely eat a lot of little insects that may come in on lettuce and vegetables or they may accidentally fly into our mouth while bicycling.  Some of these creatures are probably spiders but we are not meeting our spider dietary needs while sleeping.

For more information, visit Richard Vetter’s website.  He has done a lot of work on brown recluse spiders and has some excellent papers available.  Also, a list of all the spider species on Nantucket is at our website.  We always like getting questions about spiders so please feel free to contact us!

Aquarium Release Day

Saturday, September 6th, 10 AM – 1 PM

Time for the Aquarium animals to go back home!

This is the last day that the Aquarium is open and it is time for all of the animals to return to their winter homes. Drop into the Aquarium between 10AM and 1PM to help us release animals and begin the winterizing process for the tanks. This is a great way to see a whole new side of the Aquarium.

release day