Gerard Peter Kuiper ([ˈkaɪpɚ]), born Gerrit Pieter Kuiper ([kœypər]) (December 7, 1905, Harenkarspel (Tuitjenhorn), Netherlands – December 24 *, 1973, Mexico City) was a Dutch American astronomer who became a naturalized citizen of the United States and lived most of his life in his new homeland.
Kuiper, the son of a tailor in the village of Tuitjenhorn in North Holland, had an early interest in astronomy. He was blessed with an extraordinarily sharp eyesight, allowing him to see magnitude 7.5 stars with the naked eye, about four times fainter than visible to normal eyes. He went to study at Leiden University, where at the time a very large number of astronomers had congegrated. He befriended fellow students Bart Bok and Pieter Oosterhoff and was taught by Ejnar Hertzsprung, Antonie Pannekoek, Willem de Sitter, Jan Woltjer, Jan Oort and the physicist Paul Ehrenfest. Kuiper finished his doctoral thesis on binary stars with Hertzsprung in 1933, after which he immediately traveled to California to become a fellow under Robert Grant Aitken at the Lick Observatory. In 1935 he left to work at the Harvard College Observatory where he met Sarah Parker Fuller, whom he married on June 20, 1936. Although he had planned to move to Java to work at the Bosscha Observatory, he took a position at the Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago and became an American citizen in 1937.
Kuiper discovered two moons of planets in the solar system, namely Uranus's moon Miranda and Neptune's moon Nereid. In addition, he discovered carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of Mars and the existence of a methane-laced atmosphere above Saturn's moon Titan in 1944. Kuiper also pioneered airborne infrared observing using a Convair 990 aircraft in the 1960s.
Kuiper spent most of his career at the University of Chicago, but moved to Tucson, Arizona in 1960 to found the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona. Kuiper was the laboratory's director until his death in 1973 while on vacation with his wife in Mexico.
In 1959, Kuiper won the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship of the American Astronomical Society.
In the 1960s, Kuiper helped identify landing sites on the moon for the Apollo program.
Besides the Kuiper belt, Asteroid 1776 Kuiper, the Kuiper crater on the Moon, craters on Mars and Mercury, and the now-decommissioned Kuiper Airborne Observatory were named after him. In addition, he discovered several binary stars which received "Kuiper numbers" to identify them, such as KUI 79.
The Kuiper Prize, named in his honor, is the most distinguished award given by the American Astronomical Society Division of Planetary Sciences, an international society of professional planetary scientists. The prize recognizes outstanding contributors to planetary science, and is awarded annually to scientists whose achievements have most advanced our understanding of planetary systems. Winners of this distinguished award include Carl Sagan, James Van Allen, and Eugene Shoemaker.
*) 23 December according to Wikipedia (here the date of a Biographical encyclopedia is used)
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