Women in Early British and Irish Astronomy

pp 221-233


Sunspots and Corona

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Walter Maunder’s first wife had died in 1888 leaving him with a family of five children whose ages at the time of his marriage to Annie ranged from 21 down to only seven. Walter and Annie had no children of their own. No doubt the rearing of the youngest stepchildren took up a great deal of Annie’s time and energy; yet she was by no means cut off from astronomy. On the contrary: she carried on her editing of the Journal of the British Astronomical Association and soon found herself preparing to accompany her husband on an expedition to Norway to observe the total solar eclipse of 9 August 1896.

Maunder was an experienced eclipse observer, having taken part in an official British expedition in August 1886 to the tiny island of Carriacou in the West Indies where he obtained a series of photographs of the corona. The scientific authorities in Britain gave high priority to eclipse observations: a national Eclipse Committee, on which the Royal Observatory Greenwich was strongly involved (Maunder himself was a member), was responsible for financing and organising expeditions, and observers such as Maunder would be directed to travel and carry out observations as recommended by that Committee. For the 1896 eclipse, an independent expedition was organised by the British Astronomical Association for its amateur members and their friends, the first such venture by that society (Chapter 10). Annie’s doctor brother accompanied them as a helper. The eclipse was unfortunately clouded out at their station at Nova Zembla, but the expedition was long remembered as an outstanding social success ii (and resulted in two romances – the Roberts’, already mentioned, and the Eversheds’, to be described later).