37th DPS Meeting, 4-9 September 2005
Session 23 Planetary Sciences I
HAD Oral, Tuesday, September 6, 2005, 11:00am-12:30pm, Umney Theatre, Robinson College

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[23.02] G. P. Kuiper's Early Studies of Planets

D. P. Cruikshank (NASA Ames Research Center)

Gerard P. Kuiper was born on December 7, 1905; this is his centennial year. While he had an early interest in Solar System bodies, writing an extensive review about Mars for the popular Dutch astronomy journal, Hemel en Dampkring in 1931, Kuiper's first important observations began in 1944, when he discovered the atmosphere of Titan. In a letter dated February 29, 1944, to Lick Observatory director Joseph H. Moore, Kuiper noted that, ``The only reason I happened to observe the planets and the 10 brightest satellites was that they were nicely lined up in a region of the sky where I had run out of program stars (stars of large proper motion and parallax)." These spectroscopic observations were obtained with the new McDonald 82-inch telescope during a break from Kuiper's war-time work at Harvard’s Radio Research Laboratory. In a letter of congratulations, his friend S. Chandrasekhar wrote, ``It is only on the impact of such discoveries that one realizes afresh the permanent value of science which no war -- not even of Hitler's -- can truly undermine. And it must be of satisfaction to you that if you took a vacation from war-work, it was only to make a fundamental discovery!" Using detectors declassified at the end of World War II, Kuiper began a study of the infrared spectra of planets and stars (with the first publication in 1947) that continued to the time of his death (December 24, 1973). Early in this work, on March 2, 1948, he wrote a lengthy letter to Henry Norris Russell in which he succinctly and enthusiastically summarized his observations and discoveries. Details in this letter give a fascinating perspective on some of the earliest physical studies of Solar System bodies, such as the detection of water ice on Saturn's rings and in the polar cap of Mars, spectral and photometric measurements of Mars' surface and atmospheric haze, and the discovery of Miranda.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 37 #3
© 2004. The American Astronomical Soceity.