University of Arizona

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Gerard P. Kuiper Papers

Gerard P. Kuiper was born in The Netherlands in the town of Harenkarspel on December 7, 1905. He entered Leiden University in 1924 and received his Bachelor of Science in 1927. Kuiper immediately continued his graduate studies and received his Ph.D. in Astronomy in 1933. While completing his advanced studies, he was an assistant observer at the Leiden Observatory, 1928-1933. From 1933-1935 he was a Kellogg Fellow under American astronomer Robert Grant Aiken at Lick Observatory, Mount Hamilton, California.

In 1935 he went to Harvard College Observatory, Cambridge, Massachusetts as a lecturer in Astronomy. TIn 1936 Gerard Kuiper accepted a job at Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago as an assistant professor of Practical Astronomy. In 1943 he became a full professor and in 1947 Kuiper became the director of the Yerkes and McDonald Observatories. In 1960 he resigned from Yerkes Observatory and relocated to the University of Arizona in Tucson. Some of his best known discoveries during his tenure at the University of Chicago are: the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan in 1944, the carbon dioxide atmosphere of Mars in 1948, Uranus’s satellite Miranda in 1948, and Neptune’s satellite Nereid in 1949.

In 1960 Kuiper established the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL), first as part of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics and later as a separate unit at the University of Arizona. In his years at LPL Kuiper established a group of telescopes in the Santa Catalina Mountains above Tucson; made balloon spectroscopic observations of the Earth’s atmosphere; and conducted observatory site surveys in Hawaii, Mexico, and California.

Gerard P. Kuiper is considered by many as the father of modern planetary science. In 1975 Kuiper was posthumously honored by NASA when the airborne infrared telescope was named the “Kuiper Airborne Observatory”. He was honored again in 1984 with the establishment of the Kuiper Prize by the American Astronomical Society Division of Planetary Science, and in 1992 when the Kuiper Belt was named after him. Gerard Kuiper died on a vacation trip in Mexico City on December 24, 1973.

The Gerard P. Kuiper Papers are comprised of the personal and professional papers of astronomer Gerard P. Kuiper. The bulk of the material relates to his careers as an astronomical researcher and administrator at the Yerkes Observatory (University of Chicago), McDonald Observatory (University of Texas), and the Lunar Planetary Laboratory (University of Arizona). Items included in the collection are correspondence, publications, research material, newspaper clippings and photographs as well as Kuiper's personal experience as a member of the ALSOS Mission following World War II.