Sidney van den Bergh

Sidney van den Bergh


Date of Birth
May 20, 1929

Sidney van den Bergh was born in the Netherlands and studied one year at Leiden University, after which he transferred to Princeton University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. After receiving a master’s degree at The Ohio State University he earned his doctorate at Göttingen in 1956. After two years back at Ohio State, he was a professor at the University of Toronto for nineteen years. Since 1978 he has been at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria, as director until 1986, and as a researcher since then (formally retired since 1998). He is an observer who has worked on everything from meteors, comets, stars, and star clusters to cosmology, but the research for which he is best known is in the classification of galaxies, the study of supernovae, and the extragalactic distance scale. He discovered the dwarf spheroidal galaxies orbiting the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the jet in the Crab Nebula, X-ray emission from X Persei, a comet, and the first Cepheid variable stars in open clusters. His DDO Galaxy Catalog, compiled while he was at the David Dunlap Observatory of the University of Toronto, was a valuable tool for the study of galaxies, especially dwarf galaxies. The DDO photometric system, which he devised with Robert D. McClure, was a valuable supplement to the UBV system, allowing the determination of both spectral types and luminosities of reddened stars. Van den Bergh also developed new classification systems for supernova remnants and for galaxies. In 1996 he participated in a debate on The Scale of the Universe 1996: The Value of Hubble’s Constant, serving as spokesman for those who believed that the value of the constant was relatively large. He was a leader in the building of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, serving as president and chairman of the board of the CFHT Corporation.

Other awards

American Astronomical Society, Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, 1990.
Canadian Astronomical Society, Carlyle S. Beals Award, 1998.
Canada Council for the Arts, Killam Prize, 1990.
Government of Canada, Order of Canada, 1994.
Gruber Foundation, Cosmology Prize, 2014.

Some offices held

Canadian Astronomical Society, President, 1990-92.
International Astronomical Union, Vice President, 1976-82.

Biographical materials

Gruber Foundation, Biography on award of the Gruber Prize
McNicholl, Martin K. The Canadian Encyclopedia
Van den Bergh, Sidney, “An Astronomical Life,” Comments on Astrophysics 18, 181-90 (1995).


A recent photo, ca. 2005, courtesy of Dr. Van den Bergh and Gibson’s Photography, Victoria, BC, Canada.
Presidential portrait, Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada 85, 177 (1991).

Named after him

Minor Planet #4230 van den Bergh
Comet van den Bergh, 1974g
[Lunar crater van den Bergh is named for Sidney’s uncle George]


Papers, etc.

The AIP Center for the History of Physics has a 1976 oral history interview and a 1977 sound recording.

Other References: Historical

Search ADS for works about van den Bergh

Jay, Paul, “Thrill of Small Discoveries Still Inspires Veteran Astronomer,” [interview with van den Bergh], CBC News, 22 May 2008

Other References: Scientific

Search ADS for works by van den Bergh

van den Bergh, Sidney, “The Extragalactic Distance Scale,” Zeitschrift für Astrophysik 49, 198-200 (1960).

van den Bergh, Sidney, “Extra-galactic Distance Scale,” Nature 225, 503-05 (1970).

van den Bergh, Sidney, “A New Method for Estimating the Hubble Constant,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 20, 469-70 (1972).

van den Bergh, Sidney, C.Y. Shao, & G. Schwartz, “Comet van den Bergh (1974g),” IAU Circular 2719 (1974).

van den Bergh, Sidney, “A New Classification System for Galaxies,” Ap.J. 206, 883-87 (1976).

van den Bergh, Sidney, “The Distance to the Hyades Cluster and the Extragalactic Distance Scale,” Ap.J. 215, L103-L105 (1977).

van den Bergh, Sidney, “The Age and Size of the Universe,” QJRAS 25, 137-46 (1984).

van den Bergh, Sidney, “Supernovae and the Distance Scale,” Nature 314, 320 (1985).

Bond, J. Richard & Sidney van den Bergh, “Galaxy Distances and Deviations from Universal Expansion,” Nature 320 489-90 (1986).

van den Bergh, Sidney, “Globular Clusters and Galactic Evolution (Invited Review),” Astrophysics & Space Science 118, 435-38 (1986).

van den Bergh, Sidney, “Novae and Supernovae as Distance Indicators,” in The Extragalactic Distance Scale. Proceedings of the ASP 100th Anniversary Symposium, Victoria, Canada, June 29th - July 1st, 1988 (Astronomical Society of the Pacific, San Francisco, 1988), pp. 221-30.


van den Bergh, Sidney, “The Cosmic Distance Scale,” Astronomy and Astrophysics Review 1, 111-39 (1989).

van den Bergh, Sidney, & Gustav A. Tammann, “The Galactic and Extragalactic Supernova Rates” Ann. Rev. Astron. & Astrophys. 29, 363-407 (1991).

van den Bergh, Sidney, “The Hubble Parameter Revisited,” PASP 106, 1113-19 (1994).

Pierce, Michael J., Douglas L. Welch, Robert D. McClure, Sidney van den Bergh, Renè Racine, & Peter B. Stetson, “The Hubble Constant and Virgo Cluster Distance from Observations of Cepheid Variables,” Nature 371, 385-89 (1994).

van den Bergh, Sidney & Gustav Tammann, “The Scale of the Universe. Debate, Smithsonian Institutin’s National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC (USA), 21 Apr 1996,” PASP 108, 1065-97 (1996).