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American Eclipse: Scientific Rivals in the 19th-Century West

Evening Program with Book Signing

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Tuesday, June 6, 2017 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1B0204
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Maria Mitchell’s telescope at the American History Museum

In the scorching summer of 1878, scientists raced to Wyoming and Colorado to observe a rare total solar eclipse, and among this group were three tenacious competitors. Astronomer James Craig Watson wanted to discover a new planet. Another astronomer, Maria Mitchell, fought to prove that women had a place in science. And a young Thomas Edison, with the tabloid press fast on his heels, sought to test his scientific bona fides.

David Baron, author of the new book American Eclipse (Liveright), shares the tale of this Gilded Age celestial event that helped inspire the nation’s rise as a scientific superpower. The story—set in the mythologized last days of the Wild West—is especially timely in 2017 as America readies for another total eclipse, on August 21.

Baron, an award-winning journalist, is the author of The Beast in the Garden and a former science correspondent for NPR. He is also an umbraphile (an eclipse chaser) who has witnessed five total solar eclipses.

American Eclipse is available for signing.

Smithsonian Connection

The American History Museum holds the telescope that Maria Mitchell used as an astronomy professor and director of the observatory at Vassar Female College in the 1860s. Learn more about America’s first female professional astronomer at


S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)