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Fred Whipple
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Astronomer
    (November 5, 1906-August 30, 2004)
    Born in Red Oak, Iowa
    Joined the Harvard College Observatory (1931-77)
    Director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (1955-73)
    Wrote 'Earth, Moon and Planets' (1941)
    Discovered six comets
    Developed the 'dirty snowball' theory that comet nuclei are solid chunks of frozen gases mixed with rock and dust particles (as opposed to the then-prevailing idea that comets were loose collections of rock and dust)
    Theory proven by the Giotto spacecraft flyby of Halley's Comet (1986)
    He originally planned to be a tennis pro and majored in math only because it came easily to him. ('[It] enabled me to bring home good grades without having to spend much time on studies.')
    He did not use the phrase 'dirty snowball' for his comet model, but rather the less catchy 'icy conglomerate.'
    He planned a program of cometary studies that got deep sixed thanks to NASA budget cuts.
    His two cars had the vanity plates 'PLANET' and 'COMETS.'
    His second marriage, to Babette Samuelson, lasted 58 years.
    During World War II, he was co-inventor of a device to cut tinfoil into chaff to confuse enemy radar.
    He invented the Whipple shield to protect spacecraft from small meteors (1946).
    A fellow astronomer said, 'Unlike other great physicists, he had uncommon common sense. He just looked at things with a fresh eye.'

Credit: C. Fishel


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