Agnes Mary Clerke

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Agnes Mary Clerke
Clerke Agnes Mary.jpg
Born(1842-02-10)10 February 1842
Died20 January 1907(1907-01-20) (aged 64)

Agnes Mary Clerke (10 February 1842 – 20 January 1907) was an Irish astronomer and writer, mainly in the field of astronomy. She was born in Skibbereen, County Cork, Ireland, and died in London. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

Astronomer scientist who studies celestial bodies

An astronomer is a scientist in the field of astronomy who focuses their studies on a specific question or field outside the scope of Earth. They observe astronomical objects such as stars, planets, moons, comets, and galaxies – in either observational or theoretical astronomy. Examples of topics or fields astronomers study include planetary science, solar astronomy, the origin or evolution of stars, or the formation of galaxies. Related but distinct subjects like physical cosmology, which studies the Universe as a whole.

Astronomy natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects

Astronomy is a natural science that studies celestial objects and phenomena. It applies mathematics, physics, and chemistry in an effort to explain the origin of those objects and phenomena and their evolution. Objects of interest include planets, moons, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and comets; the phenomena also includes supernova explosions, gamma ray bursts, quasars, blazars, pulsars, and cosmic microwave background radiation. More generally, all phenomena that originate outside Earth's atmosphere are within the purview of astronomy. A related but distinct subject is physical cosmology, which is the study of the Universe as a whole.

Skibbereen Town in Munster, Ireland

Skibbereen, is a town in County Cork, Ireland. It is located on the N71 national secondary road. The name "Skibbereen" means "little boat harbour". The River Ilen runs through the town; it reaches the sea about 12 kilometers away, at the seaside village of Baltimore. As of the Census of Ireland 2011, the population of the town was 2,568. Skibbereen is in the Cork South-West constituency, which has three seats.



Agnes Clerke was the daughter of John William Clerke (c. 1814–1890) who was, at the time, a bank manager in Skibbereen, [8] and his wife Catherine Mary Deasy (b. c. 1819) whose father was a judge's registrar. [9] [10] She had two siblings; her older sister, Ellen Mary, was born in 1840, and her younger brother, Aubrey St. John, was born in 1843. [11] All of the Clerke children were entirely home schooled. [11]

Ellen Mary Clerke Irish writer

Ellen Mary Clerke was an accomplished poet, linguist and a journalist. She was the daughter of Catherine Mary Deasy, whose father was a wealthy brewer and shipbuilder in the town of Clonakilty, and John William Clerke, a bank manager of Anglo-Irish descent in Skibbereen, and later a Registrar for his brother-in-law, Richard Morgan Deasy, a High-Court Judge.

Life and work

Following in her father's footsteps—while studying classics, he had also taken courses in astronomy—she developed an interest in astronomy from an early age, using her father's 4 inch telescope in her observations and had begun to write a history of astronomy at the age of 15. [8] In 1861, aged 19, her family moved to Dublin, and in 1863 to Queenstown. At the age of 25, partly for health reasons [12] together with her elder sister Ellen, she went to Italy where she stayed until 1877, chiefly at Florence, studying science, languages, and other subjects that would be useful in their later lives. In 1877 she settled in London. [8]

Dublin capital and largest city in Ireland

Dublin is the capital of, and largest city in, Ireland. It is on the east coast of Ireland, in the province of Leinster, at the mouth of the River Liffey, and is bordered on the south by the Wicklow mountains. It has an urban area population of 1,173,179, while the population of the Dublin Region, as of 2016, was 1,347,359, and the population of the Greater Dublin area was 1,904,806.

Florence Comune in Tuscany, Italy

Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with 383,084 inhabitants in 2013, and over 1,520,000 in its metropolitan area.

Upon her return, she was able to get two articles, "Brigandage in Sicily" and "Copernicus in Italy", written while she had been in Italy, published in the Edinburgh Review of October 1877. This led to her being asked by Adam and Charles Black, publishers of the Review, who also published the Encyclopædia Britannica, to write biographies of a number of famous scientists for the ninth edition of the encyclopedia. [13] This work let to a number of other commissions, including the publication of the article on astronomy for the Catholic Encyclopedia. [8] During her career she wrote reviews of many books, including some written in French, German, Greek, or Italian. [14]

The Edinburgh Review has been the title of four distinct intellectual and cultural magazines. The best known, longest-lasting, and most influential of the four was the third, which was published regularly from 1802 to 1929.

In 1885, she published her best known work A Popular History of Astronomy during the Nineteenth Century , which has received recognition beyond the time it was written. [8]

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 able to write about this newer branch of the science with increased clearness and confidence.[ citation needed ]

David Gill (astronomer) Scottish astronomer

Sir David GillLLD was a Scottish astronomer who is known for measuring astronomical distances, for astrophotography, and for geodesy. He spent much of his career in South Africa.

Astronomical spectroscopy science of temporal, spatial, and spectral distributions of radiation

Astronomical spectroscopy is the study of astronomy using the techniques of spectroscopy to measure the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation, including visible light and radio, which radiates from stars and other celestial objects. A stellar spectrum can reveal many properties of stars, such as their chemical composition, temperature, density, mass, distance, luminosity, and relative motion using Doppler shift measurements. Spectroscopy is also used to study the physical properties of many other types of celestial objects such as planets, nebulae, galaxies, and active galactic nuclei.

In 1892 she was awarded the Actonian Prize of 100 guineas by the Royal Institution. 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 three other women, Caroline Herschel and Mary Somerville in 1835, and Anne Sheepshanks in 1862. [15]

Her sister, Ellen Mary Clerke (1840–1906), also wrote about astronomy. [16]

The lunar crater Clerke is named after her. [17]

In 2002, the retired astronomy lecturer Mary Brück wrote a book on her, Agnes Mary Clerke and the Rise of Astrophysics. [18]

In 2017, the Royal Astronomical Society established the Agnes Clerke Medal for the History of Astronomy or Geophysics, which is awarded to individuals who have achieved outstanding research into the history of astronomy or geophysics. [19] The first person to receive the medal was Clive Ruggles. [20]

Selected writings

She also wrote 55 articles for the Edinburgh Review , mainly on subjects connected with astrophysics, and articles for the Dictionary of National Biography , the Encyclopædia Britannica and the Catholic Encyclopedia , and several other periodicals. Her articles in the ninth edition (1875–89) of the Britannica included Galileo Galilei, Alexander von Humboldt, Johannes Kepler, Antoine Lavoisier and the zodiac. [13]

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Royal Astronomical Society learned society

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  1. For details of the life and work of Agnes Clerk, see Weitzenhoffer, Kenneth (1985). "The Prolific Pen of Agnes Clerke". Sky and Telescope. 70 (9): 211–212. Bibcode:1985S&T....70..211W.
  2. Huggins, Margaret L. (1907). "Agnes Mary Clerke". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society . 67 (4): 230–231. Bibcode:1907MNRAS..67..230.. doi:10.1093/mnras/67.4.230.
  3. "Obituary–Agnes Mary Clerke". The Observatory . 30: 107–108. 1907. Bibcode:1907Obs....30..107.
  4. Lynn, William T. (1907). "Miss Agnes Mary Clerke". Journal of the British Astronomical Association . 17 (4): 188–189. Bibcode:1907JBAA...17..188.
  5. Huggins, Margaret L. (1907). "Agnes Mary Clerke". Astrophysical Journal . 25 (3): 226–230. Bibcode:1907ApJ....25..226H. doi:10.1086/141436.
  6. Dent, Elsie A. (1907). "Agnes Mary Clerke". Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada . 1 (2): 81–84. Bibcode:1907JRASC...1...81D.
  7. See, Thomas J. J. (1907). "Some Recollections of Miss Agnes M. Clerke". Popular Astronomy . 15 (6): 323–326. Bibcode:1907PA.....15..323S.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 O'Connor, J J; Robertson, E F (July 2008). "Agnes Mary Clerke". School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  9. "Miss Agnes Mary Clerke (transcription)" (38236). London: The Times. 22 January 1907. p. 12; col D. Retrieved 6 December 2008.
  10. England 1871 census Class: RG10; Piece: 870; Folio: 118; Page: 24; GSU roll: 827769.
  11. 1 2 Ogilvie, Marilyn; Harvey, Joy, eds. (2000-01-01). The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science A-K. 1. Routledge: New York and London. pp. 269–271. ISBN   978-0-415-92039-1.
  12. Cliver, E W (2007). "Agnes Mary Clerke: Real—time historian of astronomy". Astronomy & Geophysics. 48 (3): 25–26. Bibcode:2007A&G....48c..25C. doi:10.1111/j.1468-4004.2007.48325.x . Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  13. 1 2 Important Contributors to the Britannica, 9th and 10th Editions Important Contributors to the Britannica, 9th and 10th Editions, Retrieved 16 April 2017.
  14. Brake, Laurel; Demoor, Marysa, eds. (2009). "Clerke, Agnes Mary". Dictionary of Nineteenth-century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland. Academia Press. pp. 127–128.
  15. Bailey, Mandy (2016). "Women and the RAS: 100 years of Fellowship". Astronomy and Geophysics. 57 (1): 19–21. doi:10.1093/astrogeo/atw037.
  16. Clerke, Ellen (1893). The Planet Venus. London: Witherby and Sons. pp. 59 p. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  17. Haines, Catharine (2001). International women in science: a biographical dictionary to 1950. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. p. 67. ISBN   978-1-57607-090-1.
  18. Brück, Mary T. (2002). Agnes Mary Clerke and the Rise of Astrophysics. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN   978-0521808446.
  19. Bowler, Sue (2016). "Maunder and Clerke medals". Astronomy and Geophysics. 57 (4): 10. doi:10.1093/astrogeo/atw143.
  20. Royal Astronomical Society. "Agnes Mary Clerke Medal for Historical Research (A/G)". Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  21. Brown, Ernest W. (1904). "Review: Problems in Astrophysics by Agnes M. Clerke". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 10 (4): 205–206. doi:10.1090/S0002-9904-1904-01096-4.

Further reading