Whipple Fred E.


The son of a farmer, Whipple first wanted to devote himself to tennis, but health problems forced him to choose a different career. He studied mathematics at the University of California, Los Angeles, and specialized in astronomy. After obtaining his doctorate in 1931, he joined the Harvard College Observatory, where he remained for his entire career. He was appointed a professor in 1950. That year, after collecting a considerable amount of data on comets, he published his famous “dirty snow” (or rather dirty ice) model of the nucleus of the comet, which was to be fully confirmed by space observations. He was appointed director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in 1955, a position he held until 1973. His exceptional longevity allowed him to witness the explosion of cometary space astrophysics, of which he is often considered the father by his colleagues.