The Annie Maunder Astrographic Telescope

Over the past year, members of the astronomy team at the Royal Observatory have been installing a new suite of telescopes in the 19th Century Altazimuth Pavilion. The cluster of instruments consists of a 14 inch (35.5 cm) reflecting telescope for high-resolution images of the sun, moon and planets, a dedicated H-alpha solar telescope, a telescope for observing distant nebulae, and a general purpose telescope. They collectively are called AMAT: the Annie Maunder Astrographic Telescope. The telescopes already saw their first light in June, and will be opening this summer. It will take the Royal Observatory back to being a "working observatory" in the sense that research-grade observations can be done, though the telescopes' main purpose is for public engagement, the potential for research and discovery. The captivating images will be put online, reaching a global audience. Indeed, to the AMAT team, inspiring people is as important as doing research.

The suite of telescopes has been named in honour of Annie Maunder. Annie Scott Dill Russell was born on 14 April 1868, and graduated with honours in the notoriously rigorous mathematical tripos in 1889. She was hired as a human computer at the Royal Observatory in 1891. Also, as the telescopes at Greenwich were specifically designed for photographing the Sun, Annie worked alongside her colleagues in taking the photographs, making notes, developing the plates and reviewing the images in detail.

When she married Walter Maunder (her supervisor in the Solar Department) in 1895, she -as a government employee- was required to give up her position. However, she continued to develop her astronomical skills as a volunteer and focused her energies on organising solar eclipse expeditions with her husband through the British Astronomical Association. She was a keen photographer and achieved considerable success in capturing images of the Sun’s atmosphere during the brief few minutes of a total solar eclipse. Her pictures of the 22 January 1898 solar eclipse, when she photographed an enormous 14 solar radii long ray-like structure appearing to burst from the Sun. This coronal streamer was the longest ever recorded up to that time.

Annie continued to assist her husband with his research. Part of Maunder's job at the Observatory involved photographing and measuring sunspots, and in doing so he observed that the solar latitudes at which sunspots occur varies in a regular way over the course of the 11 year cycle. In 1904, he published their results in the form of the "butterfly" diagram, showing the evolution of the latitude of sunspot groups throughout the solar cycle. The husband-and-wife team often published their articles in joint names and sought to bring astronomy to new audiences through newspaper articles and books on popular astronomy. These included a catalogue of some 600 recurrent sunspot groups observed and photographed at Greenwich (1907), and "The Heavens and their Story" (1910), a book which Walter admits in its introduction was "almost wholly the work of my wife."

In 1916 Annie Maunder became one of the first women accepted by the Royal Astronomical Society. Annie died, aged 79, in Wandsworth, London in 1947, surviving her husband by almost 20 years. The crater Maunder on the Moon is jointly named for Walter and Annie Maunder, as is the Maunder Minimum.

 

Credits and further reading - This article was mostly based on the Royal Museums Greenwich webpages "First Light: a new era for the Royal Observatory" by Kate Wilkinson, as well as the article "Annie Russell Maunder". Images were taken from the Royal Museums Greenwich, with the image of the butterfly diagram coming from Maunder's 1904 paper.

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