Harlan James Smith
Harlan James Smith was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

An astronomer is a scientist who studies celestial bodies such as planets, stars and galaxies.Historically, astronomy was more concerned with the classification and description of phenomena in the sky, while astrophysics attempted to explain these phenomena and the differences between them using...


He was born in Wheeling, West Virginia
Wheeling, West Virginia
Wheeling is a city in Ohio and Marshall counties in the U.S. state of West Virginia; it is the county seat of Ohio County. Wheeling is the principal city of the Wheeling Metropolitan Statistical Area...

, the son of Paul and Anna McGregor Smith. While attending Wheeling High School
Wheeling High School
Wheeling High School, or WHS, is a public four-year high school located in Wheeling, Illinois, a northwest suburb of Chicago, Illinois, in the United States. It is part of Township High School District 214, which also includes Buffalo Grove High School, Elk Grove High School, John Hersey High...

 he was named first runner up in the "Westinghouse National Science Talent Search". From 1943 until the end of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, performing weather observation.

Following the war he attended Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

, earning a B.A.
Bachelor of Arts
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...

 in 1949. In 1950 he married Joan Greene, and by 1951 had earned his M.S.
Master of Science
A Master of Science is a postgraduate academic master's degree awarded by universities in many countries. The degree is typically studied for in the sciences including the social sciences.-Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay:...

 degree from Harvard. He began teaching at the astronomy department at Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

 in 1953, but still completed his Ph.D.
A Ph.D. is a Doctor of Philosophy, an academic degree.Ph.D. may also refer to:* Ph.D. , a 1980s British group*Piled Higher and Deeper, a web comic strip*PhD: Phantasy Degree, a Korean comic series* PhD Docbook renderer, an XML renderer...

 from Harvard by 1955.

In 1963 he was named chair of the University of Texas astronomy department where he also became the director of the McDonald Observatory
McDonald Observatory
The McDonald Observatory is an astronomical observatory located near the unincorporated community of Fort Davis in Jeff Davis County, Texas, United States. The facility is located on Mount Fowlkes and Mount Locke in the Davis Mountains of West Texas...

. At the observatory he oversaw the construction of the 2.7m telescope he had persuaded NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

 to build in support of planetary missions. From 1966 until 1970 he was a member of the Committee on the Large Space Telescope, an ad hoc group formed by the National Academy of Sciences
United States National Academy of Sciences
The National Academy of Sciences is a corporation in the United States whose members serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine." As a national academy, new members of the organization are elected annually by current members, based on their distinguished and...

, the work of which resulted in the Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope is a space telescope that was carried into orbit by a Space Shuttle in 1990 and remains in operation. A 2.4 meter aperture telescope in low Earth orbit, Hubble's four main instruments observe in the near ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared...

. He also was the chairperson of the NASA Space Science Board from 1977 until 1980, and there helped propose NASA's Great Observatories program
Great Observatories program
NASA's series of Great Observatories satellites are four large, powerful space-based telescopes. Each of the Great Observatories has had a similar size and cost at program outset, and each has made a substantial contribution to astronomy...

. He retired in 1989.During his career he studied variable star
Variable star
A star is classified as variable if its apparent magnitude as seen from Earth changes over time, whether the changes are due to variations in the star's actual luminosity, or to variations in the amount of the star's light that is blocked from reaching Earth...

s, the radio emission from planets, as well as photometry
Photometry (astronomy)
Photometry is a technique of astronomy concerned with measuring the flux, or intensity of an astronomical object's electromagnetic radiation...

 and astronomical instruments. With Dorrit Hoffleit
Dorrit Hoffleit
Ellen Dorrit Hoffleit was an American senior research astronomer at Yale University.Hoffleit was born in Florence, Alabama and earned her Ph.D. in astronomy from Radcliffe College in 1938. Starting as a research assistant at the Harvard College Observatory in 1929, she was hired as an astronomer...

, he was the first to observe the optical variability of quasar
A quasi-stellar radio source is a very energetic and distant active galactic nucleus. Quasars are extremely luminous and were first identified as being high redshift sources of electromagnetic energy, including radio waves and visible light, that were point-like, similar to stars, rather than...

s, and discovered a class of variable star
Variable star
A star is classified as variable if its apparent magnitude as seen from Earth changes over time, whether the changes are due to variations in the star's actual luminosity, or to variations in the amount of the star's light that is blocked from reaching Earth...

s known as Delta Scuti variable
Delta Scuti variable
A Delta Scuti variable is a variable star which exhibits variations in its luminosity due to both radial and non-radial pulsations of the star's surface. Typical brightness fluctuations are from 0.003 to 0.9 magnitudes in V over a period of a few hours, although the amplitude and period of the...


He was an enthusiastic proponent of educating the public on astronomy, and developed the radio program "Star Date". He also developed "The Story of the Universe", a series of educational films. He was also a proponent of international cooperation, particularly with China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 which he visited several times. He served as co-editor of the Astronomical Journal
Astronomical Journal
The Astronomical Journal is a peer-reviewed monthly scientific journal owned by the American Astronomical Society and currently published by Institute of Physics Publishing. It is one of the premier journals for astronomy in the world...

as well as acting secretary for the American Astronomical Society
American Astronomical Society
The American Astronomical Society is an American society of professional astronomers and other interested individuals, headquartered in Washington, DC...


Smith died due to complications related to cancer
Cancer , known medically as a malignant neoplasm, is a large group of different diseases, all involving unregulated cell growth. In cancer, cells divide and grow uncontrollably, forming malignant tumors, and invade nearby parts of the body. The cancer may also spread to more distant parts of the...

. He was survived by his wife and four children, along with their grandchildren.

Awards and honors

  • 1991 NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal
    NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal
    The NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal is an award similar to the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, but awarded to non-government personnel. This is the highest honor NASA awards to anyone who was not a government employee when the service was performed....

  • A professorship in astronomy at the University of Texas is named after him.
  • Asteroid
    Asteroids are a class of small Solar System bodies in orbit around the Sun. They have also been called planetoids, especially the larger ones...

     3842 Harlansmith
    3842 Harlansmith
    3842 Harlansmith is a main-belt asteroid discovered on March 21, 1985 by Bowell, E. at Flagstaff .- External links :*...

     is named after him.
  • The crater Harlan
    Harlan (crater)
    Harlan is a lunar crater near the southeastern limb of the Moon. It is located just to the northeast of the crater Marinus. To the northeast is the flooded walled plain Abel, and to the southeast is Mare Australe....

     on the Moon
    The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

    is named after him.

External links

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