Maarten Schmidt, Francis L. Moseley Professor Emeritus of Astronomy at Caltech, died on Saturday, September 17, 2022. He was 92 years old. Schmidt is well known for his 1963 discovery of quasars – extremely bright and distant cosmic objects powered by active supermassive black holes.
Schmidt was born in December 1929 in Groningen, the Netherlands. He earned his BA and MA degrees from the University of Groningen, a PhD from Leiden University in 1956, and a PhD from Yale in 1966.
After earning his doctorate, Schmidt did postdoctoral work at the Mount Wilson and Mount Palomar observatories for two years as a Carnegie Fellow. He then returned to Leiden University for a year before moving to the United States.
Schmidt joined Caltech in 1959 as an associate professor of astronomy. He became Full Professor in 1964, Institute Professor in 1981 and Moseley Professor in 1987. He retired and became Moseley Professor Emeritus in 1996. He was also Executive Officer for Astronomy from 1972 to 1975, Chairman of the Physics Division , Mathematics and Astronomy from 1976 to 1978 and Director of the Halle Observatories from 1978 to 1980.
After first coming to Caltech, Schmidt focused on the mass distribution and dynamics of galaxies. Around this time, he published a paper entitled “The Rate of Star Formation”, in which he outlined a relationship between gas density and the rate of star formation in a given region. This relationship came to be known as Schmidt’s law.
Schmidt is best known for discovering quasars and measuring their great distances from Earth. While studying the light spectra of radio sources, he noticed that a cosmic object called 3C 273 produced spectral lines that were shifted to the red end of the spectrum, or “redshifted,” indicating that the object was about 3 billion light years. far, outside our galaxy. Because the distant object shone too brightly to be a star, Schmidt realized that the “quasi-stellar object” was the core of a forming galaxy, where swirling disks of matter surround a supermassive black hole.
Since this pivotal observation in 1963, thousands of quasars have been identified. These objects were more common in the early universe and are visible from Earth today because of the time it takes for light to travel such enormous distances. Schmidt’s work has given astronomers deep insight into the history of our universe.
Schmidt is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Kavli Prize for Astrophysics (2008); Bruce Medal (1992); James Craig Watson Medal (1991); Royal Astronomical Society Gold Medal (1980); the Henry Norris Russell course (1978); and the Helen B. Warner Award (1964). It was also on the cover Time magazine of March 11, 1966.
He is survived by his three daughters: Anne, Marijke and Elizabeth.
A full obituary will follow at a later date.