Person: Öpik, Ernst
Ernst Öpik was an Estonian astronomer who specialised in the study of minor bodies, such as asteroids, comets and meteors He spent the second half of his career in Northern Ireland.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- To understand the events of Ernst Öpik's life we need to give a very brief overview of the history of Estonia.
- In 1900 Ernst left Kunda and went to Tallinn where he attended the Nikolai High School.
- Ernst, however, reacted against the Russification by being active in a secret literary circle who made an introduction to Estonian literature.
- Öpik graduated from the high school in 1911 with the gold medal.
- In the autumn of 1912 Öpik began his studies at the University of Moscow.
- Öpik was totally opposed to the Bolsheviks so he joined the White Army, travelling to Yaroslavl where the Red Army was stationed.
- Öpik had a mysterious girlfriend in Yaroslavl which proved useful when he was captured by the Bolsheviks and sentenced to death.
- Publishing was difficult, in fact almost impossible, for Öpik in Tashkent and he decided to make efforts to return to Estonia, his beloved native land, which at that time had become an independent country.
- On 1 December 1921 Öpik was appointed to the University of Tartu where he worked at the Astronomical Observatory.
- Öpik was by this time publishing a remarkable number of papers: in 1922 eight of his papers appeared totalling 143 pages; in 1923, eight of his papers appeared totalling 152 pages; in 1924 nine works were published having a total of 479 pages.
- At the Astronomical Observatory in Tartu, Öpik had a research assistant Alide Piiri, who had been born on 30 June 1899, in Torila, Tartumaa.
- In 1930 Öpik went to Harvard University in the United States where he spent much time over the following four years as a Visiting Scientist and Lecturer.
- Already in 1932, Öpik discussed the influence of stellar perturbations on nearly parabolic ellipses, which 18 years later was to be an important mechanism in Oort's concept of the Comet Cloud surrounding the Sun.
- It is for this reason that Whipple, who started his professional career in 1931 at the Harvard College Observatory and who entered the field of meteor research because of Öpik's influence, always speaks of the "Öpik-Oort Comet Cloud".
- Ernst refused to let the small matters of war get in the way of his research.
- After this a Baltic University was set up in Hamburg in March 1946 to provide education for displaced students and Öpik became Professor of Astronomy and the Rector for Estonian students.
- This University was always going to be a short-term venture so Öpik had to find permanent employment.
- The University closed in 1949 but Öpik had left in 1948.
- The astronomers at Harvard learnt of Öpik's predicament and Eric Mervyn Lindsay (1907-1974) came to his help.
- Lindsay had, therefore, been a research student at Harvard at the time Öpik worked there and, in fact, Öpik had been one of the examiners of Lindsay's Ph.D. thesis.
- In December 1947 Lindsay offered Öpik the position of Research Associate at Armagh Observatory and he arrived in Northern Ireland to take up the position in June 1948.
- Although Öpik continued to work at the Armagh Observatory for the rest of his career, he also made many visits to the University of Maryland in the United States beginning in 1956.
- Dr Ernest J Öpik, visiting research professor at the University of Maryland, said in an interview Thursday that the "Russians have contributed only five-tenths of one per cent" of the new information on space.
- "They (the Russians) profess to have sent huge payloads into space 10 to 100 times larger than any the United States are capable of sending," Dr Öpik said.
- In Northern Ireland, Eric Lindsay initiated the founding of the Irish Astronomical Journal in 1950 edited by Öpik.
- Other than astronomy, the other passion in Öpik's life was music.
- Öpik received many honours for his outstanding contributions to astronomy.
Born 22 October 1893, Kunda, Russian Empire (now Estonia). Died 10 September 1985, Bangor, Northern Ireland.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Astronomy, Origin Estonia
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive