Time Era

Historic time period: 1801–1861

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Maria's Discovery

One night in October 1847, Maria (ma-RYE-ah) Mitchell saw a comet that no one else had ever seen. She quickly told her father about the discovery and asked him to check with other astronomers to make sure it really was a new comet. Her discovery won her awards, including a gold medal from the King of Denmark, a new telescope, and a prize of one hundred dollars from the Smithsonian Institution!

a tool with a sun in the center and a turnable arm with planet earth

This tellurion was used in the mid-1800's to help students understand the movements of the sun, moon, and earth.

Copyright © 2009 Smithsonian National Museum of American History

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Astronomy in the 1800's

Astronomy was very useful and important to everyday life for many people in the 1800s. Sailors, like the ones in Maria’s hometown of Nantucket, Massachusetts, used astronomy to find directions while out at sea. Maria was very good at math, making careful notes of what she saw, and was a very patient observer, which helped her become an astronomer, or expert in astronomy.

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