Gerard Peter Kuiper

Gerard Peter Kuiper was born in northern Holland on December 7, 1905. During his early years, Kuiper graduated from the University of Leiden, where he received his B.Sc. in Astronomy. Then, in 1933, Kuiper completed his doctoral thesis on binary stars under and received his Ph.D. Upon graduation, Kuiper became a citizen of the United States.  He worked for several observatories before accepting a position at the Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago in 1937.

 

Kuiper’s early research focused on stellar astrophysics and stellar energy production. However, Kuiper shifted his research to that of planetary research, which led to his first discovery. In 1944, Kuiper confirmed that Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, possesses methane (CH4) in its atmosphere. Soon after, Kuiper predicted and confirmed the presence of carbon dioxide (CO2) in Mars’s atmosphere. Within the same year, Kuiper discovered Miranda, the fifth moon of Uranus, and predicted that Saturn’s rings are primarily composed of particles of ice. The following year, Kuiper discovered Nereid, the second moon of Neptune.

 

In 1951, Kuiper published his most notorious work, On the Origins of the Solar System. Kuiper discussed his predictions for the origin of the solar system within the paper. Kuiper argued that regions of gravitational instability within a rotating solar nebula were stable against the tidal shear produced by the Sun. The material within these regions condensed and eventually became protoplanets, which later developed into the planets that are in existence today.  Kuiper also predicted the existence of a disk containing billions of comets that orbit the Sun, which is now known as the Kuiper Belt.
In 1960, Kuiper founded the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, where he became the laboratory director and remained in the position until his death in 1973.

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