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Gerard Kuiper

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Gerard Kuiper

Gerard P. Kuiper
Gerard Kuiper in 1964
Born (1905-12-07)December 7, 1905
Tuitjenhorn, Netherlands
Died December 24, 1973(1973-12-24) (aged 68)
Mexico City, Mexico
Nationality Dutch- American
Fields Astronomy
Known for Kuiper belt

Gerard Peter Kuiper (English pronunciation: ; Dutch pronunciation: ; born Gerrit Pieter Kuiper; December 7, 1905 – December 23, 1973) was a Netherlands-born American astronomer after whom the Kuiper belt was named.

Early life

Kuiper, the son of a tailor in the village of Harenkarspel in North Holland, had an early interest in astronomy. He had extraordinarily sharp eyesight, allowing him to see magnitude 7.5 stars with the naked eye, about four times fainter than visible to normal eyes. He went to study at Leiden University in 1924, where at the time a very large number of astronomers had congregated. He befriended fellow students Bart Bok and Pieter Oosterhoff and was taught by Ejnar Hertzsprung, Antonie Pannekoek, Willem de Sitter, Jan Woltjer, Jan Oort and the physicist Paul Ehrenfest. He received 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. In 1935 he left to work at the Harvard College Observatory where he met Sarah Parker Fuller, whom he married on June 20, 1936. Although he had planned to move to Java to work at the Bosscha Observatory, he took a position at the Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago and became an American citizen in 1937. In 1949, Kuiper initiated the Yerkes–McDonald asteroid survey (1950–1952).

Discoveries

Kuiper discovered two natural satellites of planets in the Solar System, namely Uranus's satellite Miranda and Neptune's satellite Nereid. In addition, he 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.

Kuiper spent most of his career at the University of Chicago, but moved to Tucson, Arizona, 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 while on vacation with his wife in Mexico. One of the three buildings at Arizona that makes up the LPL is named in his honor.

In the 1960s, Kuiper helped identify landing sites on the Moon for the Apollo program.

Kuiper discovered several binary stars which received "Kuiper numbers" to identify them, such as KUI 79.

Honors

Besides the minor planet 1776 Kuiper, the crater Kuiper on the Moon, craters on Mars and Mercury, the now-decommissioned Kuiper Airborne Observatory was also named after him.

Astronomers refer to a region of small minor planets beyond Neptune as the "Kuiper belt", since Kuiper had suggested that such small planets or comets may have formed there. However he believed that such objects would have been swept clear by planetary gravitational perturbations so that none or few would exist there today.

The Kuiper Prize, named in his honor, is the most distinguished award given by the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences, an international society of professional planetary scientists. The prize recognizes outstanding contributors to planetary science, and is awarded annually to scientists whose lifetime achievements have most advanced our understanding of planetary systems. Winners of this award include Carl Sagan, James Van Allen, and Eugene Shoemaker.

References

External links

  • Gerard Peter Kuiper: NASA KAO's Namesake
  • National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir
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