Monday, April 29, 2013

Bart Bok

Bartholomeus Jan Bok was born on April 18, 1906 in Hoorn, Netherlands. His father was a sergeant major in the Dutch army and he was born on a military base, that later became a monument. After World War I, Bok's family moved to The Hague, were he went to high school. Also while living there Bok joined the Boy Scouts and he attributed his early interest in astronomy to an astronomy test given to him by a scoutmaster. Bok failed the test and afterward made an effort to study astronomy. After graduating high school he won a scholarship to study at Leiden University where he earned his bachelors, and then when to the University of Gronigen, where he earned his doctorate in astronomy. Bok then took a job working for Harlow Shapely at the Harvard Observatory. Bok worked at Harvard Observatory from 1929 to 1957. In 1957 Bok moved to Australia where he served as director of the Mount Stromlo Observatory until 1966, when he moved to the University of Arizona and the directorship of the Steward Observatory.

Bok's research at Harvard involved mapping stars of the Milky Way galaxy. He also was involved with radio astronomy, and turned Harvard into a center for radio astronomy with the installation of Agassiz Station, which he engineered. Bok worked with his wife, Priscilla, who was also an astronomer. The pair wrote a popular book about the Milky Way that went through six printings. Bok is probably best remembered for his study of dark globular clouds. These globular clouds composed of hydrogen and dust range in mass between 2 and 50 solar masses and are light years across. Bok theorized that these clouds could be the site of stellar formation. Star formation occurs when gravity collapses a cloud of hydrogen gas so compactly that a fusion reaction begins, converting hydrogen into helium and releasing energy. Bok's prediction has been proven to be correct and consequently these dark globular clouds are called Bok globules.

Awards won by Bok during his career include the Bruce Medal, from Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Bok served as president of the American Astronomical Society from 1972-74. He and his wife also have a lunar crater and an asteroid named after them.

Bok died on August 5, 1983 of a heart attack.


Graham, J.A., Wade, C.M, and Price, R.M.; "Bart J. Bok: 1906-1983"; in Biographical Memiors; National Academy Press; 1994

Lada, C.J.; "Obituaries: Bart Bok"; Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1987)28:539

Interview of Bart J. Bok by David Devorkin on May 15, 1878; Retrieved from

No comments:

Post a Comment