Schmidt, Maarten

▪ Dutch-American astronomer
born Dec. 28, 1929, Groningen, Neth.

      Dutch-born American astronomer whose identification of the wavelengths of the radiation emitted by quasars (quasar) (quasi-stellar objects) led to the theory that they may be among the most distant, as well as the oldest, objects ever observed.

      Schmidt was educated at the universities of Groningen and Leiden, receiving his Ph.D. from Leiden in 1956, and was scientific officer of the Leiden Observatory until 1959. He joined the staff of the Mount Wilson and Palomar Mountain Observatories (now Hale Observatories) in California in 1959, at the same time joining the faculty of astronomy at the California Institute of Technology. From 1978 to 1980 Schmidt was the director of the Hale Observatories. His early work included the creation of a mathematical model of the Milky Way Galaxy based on all the available data concerning the distribution of the stars and interstellar gas and dust. Schmidt's model led to greater understanding of the structure of the galaxy and its dynamical properties.

      An even more important achievement, however, was Schmidt's study of an unusual extragalactic phenomenon, quasars, which he and other astronomers in the 1960s came to believe were exceptionally distant from the Earth and were receding from the Earth with a velocity greater than that of any other known celestial object. In their searches through space, Schmidt and his colleagues found quasars receding so quickly and existing so far away that their light may have been traveling up to 15 billion years in order to reach the Earth. Some astronomers, including Schmidt, theorized that these very distant and very old quasars are actually galaxies in the early stages of formation. Thus Schmidt's discovery and interpretation of quasars challenged many previously accepted theories of the origin and age of the universe.

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Universalium. 2010.

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