The Maria Mitchell Association (MMA) offers a wide assortment of wintertime fun on Nantucket. The MMA is composed of two observatories, a research center, an aquarium, a natural science museum, and the historic birthplace of Maria Mitchell. You can enjoy many activities and exhibits during the winter months such as the Natural Science Museum, the Biological Collections, and the Discovery Playground. When planning a winter outing, be sure to check the MMA’s winter-time hours to ensure you arrive on time and have enough hours remaining to enjoy everything offered.
History of Maria Mitchell Association
Founded in 1902, the MMA was formed to preserve and carry on the history of Nantucket-native Maria Mitchell who was an astronomer, librarian, educator, and naturalist. Mitchell’s achieved international fame with the discovery of a comet in 1847. She found the comet while gazing up at the stars from a telescope on her rooftop. She discovered the elusive comet, which could not be seen by the naked eye. She quickly gained scientific notoriety and changed many aspects of education and science.
Mitchell went on to receive an appointment as an American professor at Vassar College. She had a strong belief system that centered around, “learning by doing.” The philosophy has been interwoven throughout MMA’s mission statement and as a part of its activities and research projects.
In 1902, Mitchell’s former students, friends, family members, and fans formed the Maria Mitchell Association. Their goal was to continue or legacy, continue her astronomical and natural science research while preserving her birthplace. The MMA now offers interactive firsthand exhibits and educational programs for children and adults to enjoy.
The MMA is an excellent attraction for year-round and seasonal residents alike. Their motto, “Explore, Educate, enjoy” outlines their dedication to meeting the needs of visitors.
When the mercury drops, you are probably looking for something to do indoors. The MMA offers many wintertime activities and programs.
Below is a list of which parts of the MMA are open for winter and which ones are closed.
- Vestal Street Observatory – Closed for conservation.
- Loines Observatory – Open for certain programs
- Aquarium – Closed for the winter.
- Natural Science Museum – Fridays to Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm
- Historic Mitchell House – Closed for the season.
- Research Center – Open Saturdays from 10 am to 12 pm
Nantucket Bird Walk with MMA
Join Nantucket’s native Ornithologist Ginger Andrews and columnist Inky Mirror to look for amazing Nantucket birds. Ginger leads the way with fun facts, local natural history, and humor. These Bird Walks are held each Saturday afternoon from now until April 1st when the weather is fair. On rainy days exploration may be limited to indoor study, using the collections in the MMA Research Center. This program meets at the MMA Research Center parking area at 2/4 Vestal St. at 1:45 PM. A vehicle is highly suggested. Limited binoculars are available for loan. Pre-registration is necessary. The charge is $13.50 for Members and Non-Members $15.00.
Biological Collections at the Research Center
If you are looking for something fun and educational to do during the winter months, then why not visit the Biological Collections? Open Hours are every Saturday from 10 am to 12 pm and are hosted by Ginger Andrews, MMA’s Field Ornithologist
You’ll learn about the many collections and why exactly each one is so important from a scientific perspective. During each session, you’ll be given the opportunity to examine different specimens such as birds, mammals, insects, and plants. The displays are constantly changing and are sure to amaze you. The program is entirely free and there are no reservations needed. It is a walk-in program.
If you would like to conduct research during the winter months, then the Research Center is open by appointment.
Natural Science Museum
Off season some parts of the Maria Mitchell Association close but, during the winter, the Natural Science Museum is still open. Explore the following exhibits:
- Live Animal Room houses a variety of local insects, snakes, turtles, and frogs. You can also participate in the Meet the Animals and Carnivorous Critters programs. Many of the animals call the museum home year-round and others go on field trips to local schools. On occasion, some animals are released back into the wild after rehabilitation. Meet the Animals is always a popular time for young and old alike.
- The Bird Display is home to over 900 birds. Sign up for one of the many bird walks that take place even during the winter months.
- Hands-on Activity Area is a great place for children to have fun and enjoy a learning experience during the winter. There are always new activities such as arts, crafts, and nanotechnology.
If your child has a winter birthday, why not host it at the Natural Science Museum? They offer birthday programs that are sure to delight.
Private programs are also available such as
- The Private Beach Biology Field Trip
- Private Bird Walks
- Private Daring Daughters Walking Tour
- Private Meet the Animals
On Open Nights you can gaze at the stars alongside a team of professional astronomers. See planets, bright stars, galaxies, and nebulas. Check out the Open Nights page to learn more. Masks are required for this activity.
The Discovery Playground is open year-round but dress accordingly because the Nantucket weather can become very cold. The playground is open daily from sunup to sundown.
If you are suffering from the winter doldrums and looking for something educational to enjoy, then a visit to the Maria Mitchell Association’s many sites is an ideal solution.