Astronomer Gerard Kuiper, who is best known for the region of the solar system that now bears his name, is considered by many to be the father of modern planetary science. Join ASGanes, he tells you about Kuiper and his many discoveries …

Do you know about the Kuiper belt in the solar system? A disc-shaped region outside of Neptune’s orbit, the Kuiper Belt is made up of many icy objects. In addition to being home to many celestial objects and small planets, the region also produces many comets. It is named after astronomer Gerard Kuiper, who speculated on the existence of such a disc decades before it was actually observed.

Endowed with a great sight

Born in 1905 in a village in northern Holland, Kuiper was believed to be an astronomer by birth. Because he was gifted with a sight that was the envy of other astronomers. His keen eyesight meant he could see with the naked eye stars that others could only dream of, as those stars were almost four times paler than the stars that are normally visible to us in the sky. Kuiper had his eyes on the sky from a young age and it was no wonder he turned to astronomy.

He started studying at the University of Leiden, where the famous 17th century Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens had also studied, in 1924. This period saw many astronomers flock to the university, which means that Kuiper made connections. friendships with a good number of them who then made useful contributions to astronomy. .

In 1927, Kuiper obtained his B.Sc. in Astronomy. He completed his doctoral thesis on binary stars in 1933, traveled to the United States the same year, and became a United States citizen in 1937. He began as a scholar at Lick Observatory in California and continued to work at Harvard College Observatory. , Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago and the University of Arizona.

Focus on the planets

A hard worker who demanded the same kind of dedication and dedication from everyone around him, Kuiper made a number of discoveries that advanced the field of planetary science. Kuiper focused on planets and objects in the solar system at a time when most astronomers showed little interest in these topics.

In 1947, Kuiper correctly predicted that carbon dioxide is a major component of Mars’ atmosphere. That same year, he also correctly predicted that Saturn’s rings are made of ice particles and discovered Miranda, Uranus’ fifth moon.

In 1949, he discovered Nereid, the moon of Neptune. He also proposed a theory about the origin of the solar system that year. He suggested that the planets were formed by the condensation of a large cloud of gas around the sun.

Belt that bears his name

It was in 1951 that he proposed the existence of what we now call the Kuiper belt in an article in the journal Astrophysics. Even if he was not the first to think about it (the Irish astronomer, engineer and economist Kenneth Edgeworth had proposed the existence of such a body disc), it is the name of Kuiper which is there now. associate.

Kuiper not only used this idea to explain why there were no large planets beyond Neptune, but also suggested that objects from this disk wandered through the solar system as a comet, thus also explaining their origins.

Apart from these, Kuiper was also able to prove in 1956 that the polar ice caps on Mars were not made of carbon dioxide as previously believed, but were in fact made of frozen ice. He also predicted in 1964 that our moon’s surface would be “like crusty snow” to walk on, which was later verified by American astronaut Neil Armstrong in 1969.

Influential role

Kuiper’s role was influential in the development of airborne infrared astronomy in the 1960s and 1970s. Using these, Kuiper studied the spectroscopy of the sun, stars and planets, which is not possible. from ground observatories.

By the time Kuiper died in 1973, he had left an indelible mark on astronomy. His name, in fact, is now literally on the moon, Mercury, and Mars, as the craters in these bodies bear his name. His contributions and discoveries have led many to regard him as the father of modern planetary science.


Learn more about Nereid

Nereid, the moon of Neptune, owes its name to the Nereids, who are nymphs of the sea in Greek mythology. It was Kuiper who proposed the name following its discovery on May 1, 1949.

Kuiper made the discovery using a ground telescope. It was the last of Neptune’s satellites to be discovered until Voyager 2’s discoveries came about four decades later.

Nereid is among the largest and outermost of Neptune’s known moons with one of the most eccentric orbits for any satellite in our solar system.