Oral histories in meteorites and planetary science: XIII. Fred L. Whipple
AuthorMarvin, U. B.
KeywordsFred L. Whipple
MetadataShow full item record
CitationMarvin, U. B. (2004). Oral histories in meteoritics and planetary science: XIII: Fred L. Whipple. Meteoritics & Planetary Science, 39(S8), A199-A213.
PublisherThe Meteoritical Society
JournalMeteoritics & Planetary Science
AbstractBorn in Red Oak, Iowa, in 1906, Fred Lawrence Whipple earned his Ph.D. in astronomy at the University of California at Berkeley in 1931. He immediately accepted a position at the Harvard College Observatory and remained at Harvard throughout his career. In 1950, he was appointed to the Phillips Professorship in the Department of Astronomy, and in 1955, he began serving concurrently as the Director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory when it moved from Washington, D.C. to Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the 1930s, Whipple established the Harvard Meteor Project in which two cameras, 26 miles apart, simultaneously photographed the same meteors, for which he invariably derived elliptical orbits indicative of their origin within the solar system. In 1950, Whipple introduced his dirty snowball model of comet nuclei, which soon became widely accepted and was fully confirmed in 1986 by close-up images of comet Halley taken by the European Space Agencys Giotto spacecraft. Keenly anticipating the orbiting of satellites during the International Geophysical Year (July 1, 1957-December 31, 1958), Whipple won contracts to build a worldwide network of telescopic cameras for satellite tracking. At least one of the cameras was ready in time to photograph the Soviet Unions Sputnik I satellite in October 1957, and all 12 stations were in operation by midsummer of 1958. For his leadership role in this project, President John Kennedy honored Fred L. Whipple in June 1963 with the Presidents Award for Distinguished Public Service. In the 1960s, Whipple collaborated with astronomers at the University of Arizona to build a new observatory on Mt. Hopkins, 40 miles south of Tucson. Two of the most innovative instruments installed there for astrophysical research were the worlds largest gamma-ray detector and the Multiple-Mirror Telescope. In 1982, the Mt. Hopkins Observatory was rededicated as the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory. Although he retired in 1973, Whipple was present at the dedication and until 2003, he continued to actively participate in research projects. At present, he is anticipating the return of the Stardust mission to comet Wild 2, which will bring back to Earth samples of the comet and of interstellar dust. It is scheduled to arrive in 2006, the year of Fred Whipples 100th birthday. Among his many honors, Fred Whipple received the Leonard Medal from the Meteoritical Society in 1970 at its meeting hosted by the Goddard Space Flight Center, in Skyland, Virginia.