Annie Maunder

Annie Maunder
Credit: Courtesy of Dorrie Giles / RAS

Occupation: Mathematician, Astronomer

Year born: 1868

Research Areas: The Sun, Sunspots, Magnetic Storms

 

Early Life

Annie was born in Strabane, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. She was very good at maths and got a scholarship to study at Girton College, University of Cambridge. She passed her examinations with honours and was the top mathematician of her year, but she was not awarded a degree because in 1889 the University did not allow women to receive degrees!

Career Highlights

In 1891 Annie took a job at the Royal Greenwich Observatory doing mathematical calculations. She was part of a team of "lady computers" that studied the Sun, sunspots, and magnetic storms. She was poorly paid despite her university education and only earned the same rate of pay given to entry-level boys when they were 14. The leader of the Solar department was Walter Maunder and in 1895 Annie and Walter were married.

Annie and her husband travelled on expeditions around the world photographing the Sun and mapping the positions of sunspots over time. They discovered a pattern of changes that became known as a “butterfly diagram” because it looked like a butterfly’s wings. They also showed that magnetic storms on Earth were caused by the Sun’s corona and confirmed that throughout the 70 years of the ‘Little Ice Age’ (1645-1715) there had been little or no solar activity. This established a link between sunspot numbers and Earth’s climate. The period of low solar activity is now known as the “Maunder Minimum”.

Annie faced challenges as a woman in a male-dominated area. In 1895 she had to resign from her job because of restrictions that stopped married women working in the public service but carried on working unpaid. Many of Annie’s observations were published in scientific journals under her husband's name before she became a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1916 (24 years after she first tried to join the then, male-only society). It is not clear just how much of their work should really have been credited just to Annie.

Legacy

In 1908 Annie and Walter published a book "The Heavens and their Story". This featured many of Annie’s photographs and she was credited as the primary author. The Maunder crater on the Moon is named after Annie and Walter Maunder. In 2018, the Royal Observatory Greenwich installed a new telescope called the Annie Maunder Astrographic Telescope (AMAT).