Real Science

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

John O'Keefe, planet scientist

I've received a wonderfully evocative comment, which deserves a post of its own, on an earlier piece I wrote here about the YORP effect.

I ended that post with these words: "I still want to know more about Yarkovsky, O'Keefe, Radzievskii and Paddack."

Well this morning that request was answered when I got this from Mary:

“O’Keefe was my father. He was also responsible for discovering that the earth is (slightly) pear shaped, for which reason, we received many lugs of pears for Christmas for several years. He figured out how to map China when going from flat to round was unusual (during WWII) and he figured out that a satellite would help us to map the earth. He said tektites were from the Moon, and when nobody would listen, we put it on his funeral program so he’d have one more chance. He liked Wyeth and always talked about his appreciation of how light looks red when it comes through smoke or fog, but looks blue if it bounces off. I found his earliest comments about this in a letter to my mother before they married; he had read Goethe’s Farbenlehre.

“He believed very strongly that, as a civil servant, he was in the employ of the citizens of the US, who had a claim on his attention. Therefore those who wrote to him always received polite answers, even the little old ladies who wanted him to repent of his belief that the earth is round, or that it circuits the sun.

“He always wanted to be an astronomer; now he has an asteroid and an astral effect named after him. Good.”


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