To Menu

Gerard Kuiper

Born: December 7, 1905, in Harenkarspel, Netherlands
Died: December 24, 1973, in Mexico City, Mexico

Gerard Peter (Gerrit Pieter) Kuiper was born in the Netherlands in 1905, the first of four children of Gerrit and Antje (née de Vries) Kuiper. On entering Leiden University in 1924, he studied under Jan Hendrik Oort, among other distinguished Dutch astronomers. After graduating in 1927, Kuiper pursued a doctoral degree, also at Leiden University, and completed his studies in 1933 with a thesis on binary stars.

In that same year, Kuiper moved to California in the United States to take up a post at Lick Observatory. In 1935 he left there to work at Harvard College Observatory, where he met and eventually married Sarah Parker Fuller in June 1936. In 1937, he became an American citizen and took up a position at the Univeristy of Chicago's Yerkes Observatory. Kuiper served as director of Yerkes and McDonald Observatories, first from 1947-1949, and again from 1957-1960. In 1960, he founded the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory of the University of Arizona's Department of Planetary Sciences, and was the Laboratory's director until his death in 1973.

After an initial interest in binary stars, Kuiper later switched his focus to the Solar System's planetary bodies, believing they held the key to understanding how the Solar System came into being and evolved over time. It was Kuiper who first theorized in 1949 that the planets, satellites and asteriods had coalesced out of the solar nebula, the giant cloud of gas and dust from which the Sun was formed.

Today Kuiper is considered the father of the planetary sciences, and the list of his achievements includes:

1947   Correctly predicted that carbon dioxide was a major component of Mars' atmosphere.
1947   Correctly predicted that Saturn's rings were made chunks of ice.
1947   Discovered Miranda, fifth moon of Uranus.
1949   Discovered one of Neptune's moons, Nereid.
1951   Proposed the existence of what is now called the Kuiper Belt.
1956   Proved the polar caps of Mars are composed of water ice, not carbon dioxide.
1964   Predicted that the texture of lunar soil would feel like "crunchy snow". Proved 1969.
1967   Was instrumental in the development of infrared airborne astronomy.

Gerard Kuiper

Apart from the Kuiper Belt, an asteroid (1776 Kuiper) and three craters (on the Moon, Mercury and Mars) have been named after him.

For more detailed biographical information, please visit these sites:

Top