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Lyman Spitzer, Jr.

Born: 26-Jun-1914
Birthplace: Toledo, OH
Died: 31-Mar-1997
Location of death: Princeton, NJ
Cause of death: Heart Failure

Gender: Male
Religion: Presbyterian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Astronomer, Physicist
Party Affiliation: Democratic

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Father of space telescopes

Military service: US Navy (Division of War Research, WWII)

Astrophysicist Lyman Spitzer pioneered the study of the gas and dust that form the interstellar medium. In 1946, early in his career, he was the first scientist to suggest putting a telescope in space, where it could operate without the interference of the planetís atmosphere -- a bold idea in a time before the first man-made satellite had been launched. In the 1960s he designed the Copernicus Orbiting Astronomical Observatory, a small satellite which orbited the Earth from 1972-81. In the 1990s until the very day of his death, he worked analyzing data received from Hubble, which was essentially the space-based telescope he had proposed five decades earlier. Spitzer studied under Henry Norris Russell, and in his long career he conducted important research in hot gases, plasma physics, stellar dynamics, thermonuclear fusion, and underwater sound. He is the namesake of NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, launched in 2003, which still follows the Earth in its solar orbit.

Father: Lyman Spitzer (boxmaker)
Wife: Doreen Canaday Spitzer (four children)
Daughter: Dionis Spitzer Griffin
Daughter: Lydia Spitzer
Son: Nicholas C. Spitzer (neurobiologist)
Daughter: Sarah Spitzer

    High School: Scott High School, Toledo, OH (attended)
    High School: Phillips Academy Andover (1931)
    University: BS Physics, Yale University (1935)
    Scholar: Trinity College, Cambridge University (1935-36)
    University: MS Physics, Princeton University (1937)
    University: PhD Astrophysics, Princeton University (1938)
    Scholar: Astrophysics, Harvard University (1938-39)
    Teacher: Astrophysics, Yale University (1939-41, 1946-47)
    Professor: Astrophysics, Princeton University (1947-97)
    Administrator: Director, Princeton Observatory, Princeton University (1947-79)

    Bruce Medal 1973
    Henry Draper Medal 1974
    James Clerk Maxwell Prize 1975
    Royal Astronomical Society Gold Medal 1978 (with James Van Allen)
    National Medal of Science 1979
    Crafoord Prize 1985
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    American Astronomical Society President (1960-62)
    American Geophysical Union
    American Philosophical Society
    American Physical Society
    Astronomical Society of the Pacific
    Council for a Livable World
    National Academy of Sciences
    Royal Astronomical Society Foreign Member
    Asteroid Namesake 2160 Spitzer
    English Ancestry

Author of books:
Physics of Fully Ionized Gases (1956)
Diffuse Matter in Space (1968)
Physical Processes in the Interstellar Medium (1978)
Searching between the Stars (1982)
Dreams, Stars, and Electrons: Selected Writings of Lyman Spitzer, Jr. (1997)


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