Edward Walter Maunder (1851-1928)

Edward Walter Maunder was born on April 12 1851, the youngest son of a Wesleyan pastor. Starting in 1871, and supporting hismelf financially through a job as a bank clerk, he studied at King's College in London, however without obtaining a diploma. In November 1873, after an earlier unsuccesful attempt, Maunder secured a position at Greenwich Royal Observatory, then led by the strong-minded and micro-managerial Astronomer Royal George Biddell Airy () Maunder was hired as photographic and spectroscopic assistant, primarily in the solar observing program, then recently transferred from Kew Observatory to Greenwich. In 1875 He married Edith Hannah Bustin, who died of tuberculosis in 1888, leaving Maunder with five young children to care for. In 1895 he re-married to Annie Scott Dill Russell, his assistant at Greenwich, who remained his primary scientific partner to his death on 21 March 1928.

Maunder's interest in astronomy, and solar astronomy in particular, was fired already at a young age by a naked-eye observation of a large sunspot group in February 1866. By 1881 Maunder was in charge of the solar program at Greenwich, and could lead his own research program. He focused primarily on the studies of sunspots and solar activity, its relationship to geomagnetic activity and earth's environment, often in the face of stubborn skepticism from the scientific establishment, and most notably Lord Kelvin. Together with his second wife Annie, he publicised and extended some historical research work of earlier solar astronomers, most notably Gustav Spöer, on the anomalous state of low solar activity in the second half of the seventeenth century, an episode now known as the Maunder Minimum.

Maunder belonged to the Wesleyan Methodist Church, and as such was help some deep egalitarian convictions. Elected to the Royal Astronomical Society in 1875, he soon began lobbying the Society for acceptance of women, but in vain. Finally giving up on the RAS, in 1890 he founded the British Astronomical Association, a non-elitist organization open to women, as well as interested amateurs of any social class. A deeply religious man, wrote numerous scholarly essais on the Bible, sometimes with an astronomical flavor.


Clark, S., The Sun Kings, Princeton University Press, 2007


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