AAS 201st Meeting, January, 2003
Session 37. HAD III: Biography of 19th and 20th Century Astronomers
Oral, Monday, January 6, 2003, 2:00-3:30pm, 613-614

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[37.01U] Meridian Stones: for Form or for Function?

L. Amory (Vassar Coll. & Maria Mitchell Obs.), P. Boyce, R. diCurcio, V. Strelnitski (Maria Mitchell Obs.)

The goal of this investigation was to reveal the original intent and purpose of the creator of the ``Nantucket Meridian Stones'' - self taught astronomer and surveyor William Mitchell (the father of the first American female astronomer, Maria Mitchell). Throughout time, these two enigmatic stone obelisks in downtown Nantucket have been cloaked in controversial legends. We did not find any mention of these stones in the original diaries and journals of William Mitchell, or in the town's public documents (except for the written decision of the 1840 town meeting to allot money for the stones' erection). However, amongst several controversial articles on the stones in the local newspaper published during the 20th century, we found one (dated 1921) which gives the most plausible explanation: the meridian line defined by the stones was used by the local surveyors to keep track of the variation in the magnetic declination, the angle between the directions to the magnetic North and the true (geographical) North. This hypothesis will be compared with the existing information on the purpose and use of other historical meridian markers, both in America and Europe. This project was supported by Vassar College and the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association.

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The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: vladimir@mmo.org

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