Horace W. Babcock

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Horace W. Babcock
Born(1912-09-13)September 13, 1912
DiedAugust 29, 2003(2003-08-29) (aged 90)
NationalityUnited States
Known foradaptive optics
Babcock Model
AwardsHenry Draper Medal (1957)
Eddington Medal (1958)
Bruce Medal (1969)
Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1970)
George Ellery Hale Prize (1992)
Scientific career

Horace Welcome Babcock (September 13, 1912 – August 29, 2003) was an American astronomer. He was the son of Harold D. Babcock.


Babcock invented and built a number of astronomical instruments, and in 1953 was the first to propose the idea of adaptive optics.[1][2] He specialized in spectroscopy and the study of magnetic fields of stars. He proposed the Babcock Model, a theory for the magnetism of sunspots.

During World War II, he was engaged in radiation work at MIT and Caltech. After the war he began a productive collaboration with his father. His undergraduate studies were at Caltech and his doctorate from University of California, Berkeley.[3]

Babcock's doctoral thesis contained one of the earliest indications of dark matter. He reported measurements of the rotation curve for Andromeda which suggested that the mass-to-luminosity ratio increases radially.[4] He, however, attributed it to either absorption of light within the galaxy or modified dynamics in the outer portions of the spiral and not to any form of missing matter.

He was director of the Palomar Observatory for Caltech from 1964 to 1978.



Named after him


  1. ^ Babcock, H.W. (1953) “The possibility of compensating astronomical seeing,” Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 65 (386) : 229–236. Available at: Astrophysics Data System
  2. ^ "'Adaptive optics' come into focus". BBC. 18 February 2011. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  3. ^ Hockey, Thomas (2009). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers. Springer Publishing. ISBN 978-0-387-31022-0. Retrieved August 22, 2012.
  4. ^ Babcock, H, 1939, “The rotation of the Andromeda Nebula”, Lick Observatory bulletin ; no. 498
  5. ^ "Henry Draper Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 26 January 2013. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  6. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
  7. ^ "Past Winners of the Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal". Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  8. ^ "Winners of the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society". Royal Astronomical Society. Archived from the original on 25 May 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2011.

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