Monday, July 20, 2009

July 20: Ormsby M. Mitchel

Ormbsy MacKnight Mitchel
July 20, 1805 – October 30, 1862

Ormbsy MacKnight (or McKnight) Mitchel was an American astronomer and major general in the American Civil War.

A multi-talented man, he was also an attorney, surveyor, and publisher. He is notable for publishing the first magazine in the United States devoted to astronomy. Known in the Union Army as "Old Stars", he is best known for ordering the raid that became famous as the Great Locomotive Chase during the Civil War.

The U.S. communities of Mitchell, Indiana, Mitchelville, South Carolina, and Fort Mitchell, Kentucky were named for him.

Mitchel received an appointment to the United States Military Academy in 1825, where he was a classmate to Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston. He stayed at West Point as assistant professor of mathematics for three years. He helped establish observatories for the United States Navy and at Harvard University.

In 1845, he was appointed director of an observatory established at Cincinnati College through his initiative. At the time, it featured the second-largest refracting telescope in the world. He published the first monthly magazine in the United States devoted specifically to astronomy. In 1859, Mitchel became superintendent of the Dudley Observatory at Albany, New York, where he continued his pioneering work on the development of telegraphic determination of longitude.

A persistently bright region near the Mars south pole that was first observed by Mitchel in 1846 is named in his honor - 'The Mountains of Mitchel'. It is located near 70°S, 40°E. An impact crater on Mars was named in his honor.

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