Martin Schmidt, the astronomer who explained quasars, has died at the age of 92

Martin Schmidt, the Dutch-born American astronomer who explained the mysterious celestial bodies known as quasars, and in doing so helped create the modern picture of the universe, its structure, and history, died on September 17 at his home in Fresno, California. was 92.

The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, where he was a professor emeritus, declared his death but did not give a cause.

With his pioneering work on quasars, Dr. Schmidt has been credited with helping to revolutionize scientists’ understanding of the universe. Provide evidence for ideas and concepts now prominent in public discourse, such as the Big Bang and black holes.

Quasars have been found to be objects that, through unknown mechanisms, radiate energies so enormous across vast swaths of space that they seem almost limitless. Although there are neither stars nor planets, they seem to share some properties of stars. Hence the name quasar, an acronym that recognizes its star-like properties, and stands for quasi-stellar radio source.

In identifying these objects, and showing what they were and where they were, Dr. Schmidt made observations using one of the great scientific instruments of his day, the 200-inch reflecting telescope installed at the observatory at Mount Palomar in California.

Dressed in a heated flight suit as protection from the mountain night chill of Palomar, Dr. Schmidt pointed the giant telescope at a point in the sky that colleagues have identified as the source of some of the unexplained energy reaching us from space.

Then, with images taken with the telescope of the dim light that came from the same spot in the sky, Dr. Schmidt searched for clues to the mystery. He found his explanation in a phenomenon known to science as cosmic redshift.

This is the name given to the shift in frequency — toward the red end of the spectrum — of light that objects emit in an expanding universe, as they fly away from each other in the aftermath of the Big Bang. The Big Bang was the event that moved it all.

What Dr. Schmidt recognized in his photographs was the spectrum of hydrogen, the characteristic pattern of light frequencies emitted by the excitation of the hydrogen atom that pervades the universe.

But the individual separate lines in the hydrogen spectrum have been shifted so that each has a wavelength 1.16 times larger than normal. I asked for an explanation. It went beyond expectations and was cause for panic.

In an interview years later, he remembers telling his wife at home that “something terrible” had happened at work.

By eliminating all other possibilities, Dr. Schmidt confronted the discovery that was credited with overturning many prevailing ideas about the evolution of the universe. He concluded that the explanation must lie in the frequency shift caused by the expansion of the universe.

He described the conclusion as astonishing and astounding. He remembers hitting the floor at home for hours. Applying the cosmic redshift principle, the quasar was placed at a distance of more than two billion light-years.

A light year is the distance light travels in a year, moving at a speed of 186,000 miles per second. A billion light years is an unimaginable distance. The recognition that quasars can be found at such a distance has given support to new ideas about the size of the universe, and how far it extends beyond our solar system and galaxy.

In an interview with the American Institute of Physics, he noted the fear he felt at making such a conclusion, and wondered how it would be received, if published, and whether it might be ridiculed. “You can’t be silent,” he said, “and you had to say something, and you’d better be good because it was clearly appropriate.”

The work, published in Nature in 1963, is widely seen as revolutionary.

In 1966, Time magazine placed it on a Coverage Compare it to Galileo. Just as Galileo paved the way for Sir Isaac Newton, who compiled the laws of planetary motion and gravity, Schmidt and his colleagues force their contemporaries to exercise their creative imagination just to understand what the great observatories saw, clues gathered from science-fading spectrographs may lead to a new age of understanding.”

Received a new major prize in science, and Kavli Prizewho honored him as the one who “opened the door to the farthest reaches of the universe”.

The award given by the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters, shared with A fellow astronomer explained the relationship between a quasar and a black hole. Scientists believe that quasars harbor black holes and derive their energies from association with black holes.

The concept of a quasar and a black hole together has come to symbolize the modern view of the universe as a place of violent interactions and unleashing of enormous energies, capable of radiating light that can reach us on Earth after a journey that has taken billions. Years.

Such signals from billions of light-years away can be viewed as messages from long ago, providing information about the early history of the universe.

Martin Schmidt was born in Groningen, Netherlands on December 28, 1929. His father was a government accountant and his mother was a homemaker. After spending his undergraduate years at the University of Groningen, he received his doctorate in 1956 from Leiden University, where he studied under the famous astronomer Jan Hendrik Oort. Dr. Schmidt came to the United States on a fellowship from the Carnegie Institution and joined the faculty at Caltech in 1959. He retired in 1996.

At a party at the observatory in Leiden, he met Cornelia “Corey” Tom, a kindergarten teacher whom he married in 1955. Die In 2020. Among the survivors are three daughters.

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