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Willem J. Luyten

AKA Willem Jacob Luyten

Born: 7-Mar-1899
Birthplace: Semarang, Indonesia
Died: 21-Nov-1994
Location of death: Minneapolis, MN
Cause of death: Heart Failure

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Astronomer

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Stellar mortician

Astronomer Willem J. Luyten (pronounced LOY-ton) studied under Ejnar Hertzsprung, and found proper motions for more than 120,000 stars, then used new computer capabilities to calculate 400,000 more. When he was hired at Harvard Observatory, exactly three white dwarf stars had been recognized; he catalogued about 7,000 in his career. Remarkably, he accomplished all this despite losing sight in one eye at the age of 25, the result of an accident while playing tennis with the grandson of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He was fluent in Dutch, English, French; German, Greek, and Latin, conversant in Italian, Russian, and Spanish, and for years he was the unofficial astronomical corespondent for the New York Times.

Luyten refused to play "office politics" and was almost universally described as gruff and difficult. He was fired at Harvard, and often complained that he had been denied proper credit for various aspects of his work. He considered astronomer Henry Norris Russell "an enemy for life", and in papers and lectures he invariably referred to the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram as "the Hertzsprung diagram". For his expertise in dying stars and perhaps for his demeanor, he was often called the "stellar mortician".

Father: Jacob Luyten (teacher)
Mother: Cornelia Francken Luyten
Wife: Willemina Miedema Luyten (m. 5-Feb-1930, two daughters, one son)
Daughter: Ann Luyten Dieperink (attorney)
Son: James Luyten (oceanographer)
Daughter: Mona Luyten Coetzee (biologist)

    University: BA, University of Amsterdam (1918)
    University: PhD, University of Leiden (1921)
    Scholar: Lick Observatory, University of California at Santa Cruz (1921-23)
    Scholar: Harvard College Observatory, Harvard University (1923-31)
    Teacher: Astronomy, University of Minnesota (1931-38)
    Professor: Astronomy, University of Minnesota (1938-67)

    Bruce Medal 1968
    James Craig Watson Medal 1964
    Guggenheim Fellowship
    The New York Times
    International Astronomical Union
    National Academy of Sciences 1970
    National Science Foundation
    Asteroid Namesake 1964 Luyten
    Naturalized US Citizen
    French Ancestry (maternal)
    Dutch Ancestry (paternal)

Author of books:
The Pageant of the Stars (1929)
The South Galactic Pole (1973, with Anton E. LaBonte)
The North Galactic Pole (1976)
My First 70 Years of Astronomical Research: Reminiscences of An Astronomical Curmudgeon (1987, memoir)


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