December 7, 1905-December 24, 1973
BY DALE P. CRUIKSHANK
HOW DID THE SUN and planets form in the cloud of gas and dust called the solar nebula, and how does this genesis relate to the formation of other star systems? What is the nature of the atmospheres and the surfaces of the planets in the contemporary solar system, and what have been their evolutionary histories? These were the driving intellectual questions that inspired Gerard Kuiper's life of observational study of stellar evolution, the properties of star systems, and the physics and chemistry of the Sun's family of planets.
Gerard Peter Kuiper (originally Gerrit Pieter Kuiper) was born in The Netherlands in the municipality of Haringcarspel, now Harenkarspel, on December 7, 1905, son of Gerrit and Antje (de Vries) Kuiper. He died in Mexico City on December 24, 1973, while on a trip with his wife and his long-time friend and colleague, Fred Whipple. He was the first of four children; his sister, Augusta, was a teacher before marriage, and his brothers, Pieter and Nicolaas, were trained as engineers. Kuiper's father was a tailor.
Young Kuiper was an outstanding grade school student, but for a high school education he was obliged to leave his small town and go to Haarlem to a special institution that would lead him to a career as a primary school teacher.