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Annie Russell Maunder (1868 - 1947):
Solar Scientist

Annie Russell Maunder

Annie Maunder was born Annie Scott Dill Russell in Strabane, Co Tyrone in 1868. Her father, the Rev William A. Russell, was the minister of the Presbyterian Church in Strabane.  Annie was educated at the Ladies’ Collegiate School in Belfast which later became Victoria College.  She won a scholarship to Girton College, Cambridge and in 1889 gained honours in the mathematical tripos but was not awarded a degree as women were denied degrees until 1948.

In 1891 she joined the staff of the Royal Greenwich Observatory in London as a ‘lady computer’ and was assigned to the solar department at a salary of £4 per month.  Russell assisted Walter Maunder, the head of the department, in taking daily photographs of the Sun.

In 1895 Annie married Walter and had to resign her post due to the ban at that time on married women in the public service.  Annie was 27 and Walter, a widower, was nearly 45 with a family of five children.  In addition to her domestic duties, Annie edited the journal of the British Astronomical Association and assisted her husband on a voluntary basis.

In 1898 the Maunders went on a solar eclipse expedition to India.  Annie photographed the solar corona with a camera of her own design and captured an image of a very long streamer.  The couple took part in two further eclipse expeditions and Annie was regarded as an expert in eclipse photography.

The name Maunder is usually associated with the ‘butterfly diagram’, a depiction of the 11-year sunspot cycle which shows how the latitudes of sunspots change with each cycle.  The Maunders were also interested in a period of 70 years from 1645 to 1715 in the middle of the Little Ice Age when the Sun was almost devoid of sunspots.  They showed that when sunspots are scarce there are few magnetic disturbances and auroral displays.  The ‘Maunder Minimum’ is of particular interest in debates about climate change.

When the ban on women in the Royal Astronomical Society was finally lifted in 1915, Annie was one of the first to be made a Fellow, more than 20 years after her name was first put forward.  Walter Maunder died in 1928 after a long illness. Annie survived her husband by nearly 20 years and died in London in 1947 in her 80th year.

The Maunders are jointly commemorated by a crater on the Moon.

Born: 14 April 1868
Died: 15 September 1947
Ian Elliott
Torch-Bearing Women Astronomers by M.T. Brück in Lab Coats and Lace – The lives and legacies of inspiring Irish women scientists and pioneers, edited by Mary Mulvihill, WITS, 2009.