Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Oct. 1882.  It seems strange that a comet should be an object of terror.  The beauty of this comet {referring to October 1882 comet}and that of 1861 and of 1881 and the general prosperous condition of the world affairs should do something to destroy this unfortunate prestige.  So far, in the records of history we have no knowledge of harm coming from these startling visits and in the doctrine of probabilities it is even chance that good and not evil may accrue novel changes. 

The year, 1882, and month, October, marked the thirty-fifth year anniversary of Maria Mitchell’s comet discovery on October 1, 1847.  Much of her life – and thousands of years before – were marked by the fear of a comet as a bad omen, a sign from the heavens above, an unexplained object that could bring an end to the Earth.  Even in 1882, a fear still existed among some – a fear of the unknown – something that could not be explained.  In fact, viewing comets with her father as a young girl, even eclipses, drew the attention of Nantucketers – some still afraid of the phenomena viewed by the family living at 1 Vestal Street even though they were living on a fairly enlightened island.

JNLF

Celebrate Maria’s Discovery of a Comet– October 1, 1847

10mo 1, 1847.  {October 1, 1847}   This evening at half past ten Maria discovered a telescopic comet five degrees above Polaris.  Persuaded that no nebulae could occupy that position unnoticed it scarcely needed the evidence of motion to give it the character of a comet.

From the journals of William Mitchell, father of Maria.

One hundred and seventy-one years later to the day!  In the year of her 200th birthday.

JNLF

Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria Mitchell, ca. 1865

October 17, 1854 I have just gone over my comet computation again and it is humiliating to perceive how very little more I know than I did 7 years ago when I first did this kind of work. To be sure I have only once in the time computed a parabolic orbit but it seems to me that I know no more in general. I think I am a little better thinker, that I take things less upon trust but at the same time I trust myself much less. The world of learning is so broad and the human side is so limited in power! We reach forth and strain every nerve but we seize hold only of a bit of the curtain that hides the infinite from us. Will it really unroll to us at some future time? Aside from gratification of the affections in another world, that of the intellect must be great, if it is enlarged and its desires are the same.

Maria Mitchell discovered a telescopic comet on October 1, 1847 and was awarded a gold medal from the King of Denmark for her discovery – the first woman and the first and only American. I think this quote also reveals a little more about her personality and the fact that she was always very hard on herself – she was a “plugger,” one who had to work hard but she did have an incredible mind and a unique way of looking at everything.

JNLF

Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria MitchellOctober 17, 1854

I have just gone over my comet computation again and it is humiliating to perceive how very little more I know than I did 7 years ago when I first did this kind of work. To be sure I have only once in the time computed a parabolic orbit but it seems to me that I know no more in general. I think I am a little better thinker, that I take things less upon trust but at the same time I trust myself much less. The world of learning is so broad and the human side is so limited in power! We reach forth and strain every nerve but we seize hold only of a bit of the curtain that hides the infinite from us. Will it really unroll to us at some future time? Aside from gratification of the affections in another world, that of the intellect must be great, if it is enlarged and its desires are the same.

Maria Mitchell discovered a telescopic comet on October 1, 1847 and was awarded a gold medal from the King of Denmark for her discovery. She was the first American and first woman to receive this honor.