Astronomer Gerard Kuiper

Gerard Kuiper Image:  Hugo vanGelderen, / Anefo

Gerard Kuiper
Image: Hugo vanGelderen, / Anefo

On December 7, 1905, Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Peter Kuiper was born. Considered by many to be the father of modern planetary science, Kuiper is the eponymous namesake of the Kuiper belt, a region of the Solar System beyond the planets, extending from the orbit of Neptune (at 30 AU) to approximately 50 AU from the SunKuiper also discovered Miranda, a moon of Uranus, and Nereid, a moon of Neptune.

Gerard Kuiper is believed to have had an extraordinarily sharp eyesight which allowed him to see magnitude 7.5 star with the naked eye, about four times fainter than visible to normal eyes. Kuiper studied at Leiden University starting from 1924 and befriended his fellow students Bart Bok and Pieter Oosterhoff. Further, Kuiper studied under Ejnar Hertzsprung, Antonie Pannekoek, Willem de Sitter, Jan Woltjer, Jan Oort and the physicist Paul Ehrenfest. He earned his B.Sc. in Astronomy in 1927 and continued straight on with his graduate studies. Kuiper finished his doctoral thesis on binary stars with Hertzsprung in 1933, after which he traveled to California to become a fellow under Robert Grant Aitken at the Lick Observatory.

Kuiper left to work at the Harvard College Observatory where he met Sarah Parker Fuller, whom he married on June 20, 1936. He then took a position at the Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago and became an American citizen in 1937.

Gerard Kuiper discovered two natural satellites of planets in the Solar System, namely Uranus‘s satellite Miranda and Neptune’s satellite Nereid. Further, Kuiper discovered carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of Mars and the existence of a methane-laced atmosphere above Saturn‘s satellite Titan in 1944. Kuiper also pioneered airborne infrared observing using a Convair 990 aircraft in the 1960s.

In 1960 to found the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona. Kuiper was the laboratory‘s director until his death in 1973. In the 1960s, Kuiper helped identify landing sites on the Moon for the Apollo program.

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