Astronomy Bio...Gerald Neugebauer

Jay Bitterman

Gerald Neugebauer is a US astronomer, born in Göttingen, Germany on September 3, 1932. He studied at Cornell University and received his PhD from the California Institute of Technology in 1960. After completing his education he joined the US army and from 1960 to 1962 he was stationed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In 1962 he accepted a post as assistant professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology and was promoted to associate professor in 1965. Also, in 1965 he was appointed to staff associate of Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories. From April 1969 to July 1970 he as was a member of the NASA Astronomy Missions Board where he worked on the infrared radiometers that were carried aboard the Mariner missions to Mars and from 1970 to 1973 was the principal investigator of the Mariner missions and the Infrared Explorer Satellite. Since 1976 he has been the US principal scientist on the Infrared Astronomical Satellite.

In the mid-1960s, Neugebauer and his colleagues attempted to establish the first infrared map of the sky. Their telescope was designed to detect radiation in the region of 2.2 microns and the project became known as the "Two Micron Survey". They detected, from the top of Mount Wilson, some 20,000 new infrared sources, most of which did not coincide with known optical sources. The brightest and strangest of these sources is located in the Orion nebula, and is named the Becklin-Neugebauer object for its discoverers. It cannot be seen in photographs taken in visible light. Carbon monoxide is blowing outwards from it at a high velocity. This phenomenon is being interpreted as a strong stellar wind blowing from a young star that only began the process of nuclear fusion as recently as 10,000 or 20,000 years ago.

In 1970 he became professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology and in 1981 he became the director of the Palomar Observatory.

Published in the September 2002 issue of the NightTimes