Dr. Fred L. Whipple
Ted Pedas “Science at Sea

Dr. Fred L. Whipple

Hale-Bopp Comet Rendezvous Cruise (1997)
Yucatan Discovery Cruise

[Fred L. Whipple]
Dr. Fred L. Whipple is recognized as the definitive authority on the astronomy of comets. He has earned the reputation of "Dr. Comet" for his decades of research into the nature of these celestial visitors from the outer fringes of our solar system.

Dr. Whipple has been a scholar of cometary astronomy for half a century. Now retired from his professorship in astronomy at Harvard University. Dr. Whipple is recognized for his directorship of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, which he merged with the Harvard College Observatory and then guided to international renown.

In 1950, Dr. Whipple advanced his theory to account for the structure and appearance of comets. He proposed that a comet is a ball of icy substances of gases and dust a few miles in diameter. These "dirty snowballs" contain water, ammonia, methane and, embedded within, are dust particles and small chunks of rocky material.

According to Dr. Whipple's theory, the nucleus spends most of its time at great distances from the sun. Hibernating in the deep freeze of space, the frozen ball is a small and barely noticeable object. It is only when a comet approaches the sun, and heat vaporizes its surface ices, that a cloud of gas is produced. This escaping cloud encloses the comet and sweeps into a graceful tail which might stretch over hundreds of millions of miles into space.

Dr. Whipple is the author of over 200 scientific papers and articles about meteors, comets and the solar system at large. His writings run the gamut from analytical scientific works on variable stars, galaxies and stellar evolution, to his specialty on comets and more general works on the Earth, moon and planets, as well as a survey of the universe. His most recent book, The Mystery of Comets has been published by the Smithsonian Institution.

Dr. Whipple's long list of honors include gold medals from: the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Astronomical Society, the U.S. Air Force, President John F. Kennedy, and the Smithsonian Institution. These awards recognize his scientific research, his World War II contribution to radar countermeasures, and his leadership in tracking satellites from stations around the world. The Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory near Tucson, Arizona, has been named in his honor. In recognition of his countless contributions to better the smaller bodies of our solar system, a minor planet known as "Asteroid Number 1940" has been officially named "Whipple."

In addition to his participation in roundtable discussions and the nightly watch for Hale-Bopp, Dr. Whipple's lecture topics aboard the Hale-Bopp —Comet Rendezvous Cruise includes "The Heads and Tales of Comets"

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