Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Janaury 20: Agnes Mary Clerke

Agnes Mary Clerke
February 10, 1842 – January 20, 1907

Agnes Mary Clerke was an astronomer and writer, mainly in the field of astronomy. She was interested in astronomy from an early age, and had begun to write about it before the age of 15. Her first important article, Copernicus in Italy, was published in the Edinburgh Review in October 1877. She achieved a world-wide reputation in 1885, on the appearance of her exhaustive treatise, A Popular History of Astronomy during the Nineteenth Century. Clerke was not a practical astronomer, instead collating, interpreting and summarising the results of astronomical research. In 1888 she spent three months at the Cape Observatory as the guest of the director, Sir David Gill, and his wife, and there became sufficiently familiar with spectroscopic work to be enabled to write about this newer branch of the science with increased clearness and confidence.

As a member of the British Astronomical Association she attended its meetings regularly, as well as those of the Royal Astronomical Society. In 1903, with Lady Huggins, she was elected an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society, a rank previously held only by two other women, Caroline Herschel and Mary Somerville.

Her sister, Ellen Mary Clerke (1840–1906), also wrote about astronomy. The Lunar crater Clerke is named in her honor.

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