Campus & Community

CfA to remember life and science of Fred Whipple

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Fred Whipple (Staff file photo Stephanie Mitchell)

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) will hold a celebration of the life and science of Fred Whipple on Dec. 4 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Science Center, Hall B. Whipple, the Phillips Professor of Astronomy Emeritus, died on Aug. 30 at the age of 97.

The morning of the event will be devoted to a scientific symposium on topics of particular interest to Whipple. Selected remembrances will be shared in the afternoon.

Several renowned individuals will speak during the morning science program from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. They include professors Owen Gingerich (CfA), Charles Lundquist (NASA/Huntsville, Ala.), Brian Marsden (CfA), Ursula Marvin (CfA), Zdenek Sekanina (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), and Joseph Veverka (Cornell University).

Whipple maintained an office at 60 Garden St. for more than 73 years. Initially appointed head of the Harvard observing program in 1931, he had much to do with the early work at the Oak Ridge station in Harvard, Mass., discovering comets and pioneering a project to determine the velocities of meteors. Advancing from associate to full professor, he revolutionized cometary research with the development of his celebrated “dirty snowball” theory in 1950.

On becoming director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) on its move to Cambridge in 1955, Whipple formed teams for studying artificial satellites that were ready for Sputnik two years later. Mindful of the need for the rapidly growing SAO to acquire genuine research instruments, he took steps to establish the Mount Hopkins site in Arizona in 1966 and to initiate the design of the Multiple-Mirror Telescope (MMT). Appointed Phillips Professor of Astronomy at Harvard in 1968, he retired as SAO director in 1973 and became Phillips Professor Emeritus in 1977. The MMT was dedicated in 1979, and Mount Hopkins was renamed the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in 1981.

Whipple continued his research on comets for two decades more, being named to NASA’s team for the CONTOUR comet mission in 1999.