Astronomy pioneer Meinel dies at 88

Brought telescopes to Kitt Peak, helped develop UA's program
2011-10-05T00:00:00Z Astronomy pioneer Meinel dies at 88Tom Beal Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 05, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Aden Meinel, who brought telescopes to Kitt Peak and led the early development of astronomy and optical sciences at the University of Arizona, died Monday at his home in Nevada. He was 88.

Meinel was affiliated with Yerkes Observatory near Chicago when he took the first horse-pack trips to the summit of Kitt Peak southwest of Tucson to scout sites for a national observatory.

He became Kitt Peak's founding director in 1958 but didn't stay long.

A dispute with the observatory's board of directors led him to resign in March 1960, on the day of the observatory's formal dedication, according to the Web page of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

UA President Richard Harvill then asked Meinel to beef up the UA astronomy program.

Meinel became director of the Steward Observatory in 1961, then established the Optical Sciences Center in 1966 and became its first director.

He recruited a colleague from Yerkes, Gerard Kuiper, to bring his lunar and planetary studies to the UA in 1960, leading to the establishment of the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

"He had a very big influence on the place," said Peter Strittmatter, director of Steward Observatory.

Strittmatter said Meinel was also the "creator and conceiver" of the practice of combining multiple mirrors into a single telescope, allowing larger telescopes to be built affordably.

The Meinel Building, which houses the UA College of Optical Sciences, is named for him.

"This place would not be here without him," said optical sciences Dean James Wyant. "I would not be here and the optical companies would not be here and a lot of developments in astronomy would not have happened."

Meinel had just stepped down as director of optical sciences when Wyant arrived in 1974, but he and his wife, Marjorie, retained an office in the department.

Marjorie Pettit Meinel was an astronomer and colleague as well as Meinel's wife and mother of their seven children. She died in 2008.

At home, Aden Meinel would play pingpong with the children and spend time in his machine shop, said Wyant.

"He'd come up with these ideas and then go home and actually build the stuff. He was an amazing guy," said Wyant.

Wyant said Meinel never stayed at one task very long. "He liked to start things, but he didn't like to run them."

Meinel was later a distinguished scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech, and retired in 1992.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at tbeal@azstarnet.com or 573-4158.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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