Cunitz, Maria (1610–1664)
Cunitz, Maria (1610–1664)
German astronomer noted for her simplification of Kepler's tables of planetary motion. Name variations: Marie. Born Maria Cunitz in 1610 in Schweidnitz, Silesia; died in 1664 in Pitschen, Silesia; daughter of Dr. Heinrich Cunitz; educated by father and tutors; married Dr. Elias von Löven, 1630; no children.
Urania Propitia (1650).
Maria Cunitz devoted her life to correcting the troublesome problems inherent in Johannes Kepler's Rudolphine Tables of planetary motion, which were based on the lifelong observations of Tycho Brahe. However, Cunitz was no mere calculator; her mastery of astronomical theory was evident in her work.
Cunitz was born in 1610 in Schweidnitz, Silesia, the eldest daughter of Heinrich Cunitz, a wealthy physician and landowner. Guided by her father, she learned seven languages (including Latin, Greek and Hebrew) and studied medicine, art, music, mathematics, history and astronomy. At age 20, she married one of her tutors, Elias von Löven, a physician and amateur astronomer.
Von Löven encouraged his wife's mathematical and astronomical talents, especially her interest in Kepler's Rudolphine Tables used to calculate planetary positions. It was a well-established fact at the time that the complicated tables contained a number of errors. Cunitz set about to simplify them and correct as many mistakes as possible. Her work was hampered, however, by lack of funds and astronomical equipment, as well as by interruptions caused by the Thirty Years' War (1616–48). Indeed, she spent most of her life as a refugee in Poland and sought shelter in a cloister with her husband for a time. Despite these conditions, Cunitz succeeded in publishing her results as Urania Propitia (Sive Tabulae Astronomicae Mire Faciles) in 1650, in both Latin and German. Although she did correct a number of errors in the original tables, she simplified Kepler's work by neglecting higher order terms in the formulae, thus introducing new errors. Her work, nonetheless, clearly demonstrated her mastery of both mathematics and astronomical theory. Cunitz' publication of the work under her maiden name did not prevent the common assumption that her husband had in fact done most of the work. In response to the misattribution, her husband added a preface to the later editions in which he denied any part in the work.
Cunitz died in Pitschen, Silesia, in 1664, again a refugee from war. Although called by some contemporaries the "Second Hypatia ," Cunitz had her critics. In 1706, Johann Eberti (in his Eroffnetes Cabinet des gelehrten Frauenzimmers) charged that she was "so deeply engaged in astronomical speculation that she neglected her household." This charge was often repeated throughout the 18th century.
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Kristine Larsen , Associate Professor of Physics and Earth Sciences, Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, Connecticut