Adriaan Blaauw

Adriaan Blaauw


Date of Birth
April 12, 1914
Date of Death
December 1, 2010

Born in Amsterdam, Adriaan Blaauw studied astronomy at the Universities of Leiden, where he worked with Jan Oort and Ejnar Hertzsprung, and Groningen, where he earned his doctorate under Pieter van Rhijn. In 1945 he returned to Leiden, from which he participated in an expedition to Kenya in 1949-50, and made lengthy visits to Yerkes Observatory, where he became a member of the staff in 1953. Four years later he returned to the Netherlands to become director of the University of Groningen’s Kapteyn Astronomical Laboratory, which he rebuilt into a major research center concentrating on galactic structure. His scientific contributions concerned the motions of star clusters and associations, “runaway stars,” star formation, and the determination of the cosmic distance scale. From 1975 to 1981 he was a professor at Leiden. Blaauw was a leader in international collaborations. He played a significant role in the construction of the European Southern Observatory in Chile, serving two years as scientific director and then as director general from 1970 to 1974. He lent ESO support and became the first chairman of the board of directors of Astronomy and Astrophysics, when that journal was formed by the merger of most European astronomy journals in 1968. He chaired the Scientific Proposals Selection Committee for the astrometric satellite HIPPARCOS built by the European Space Agency. After his 1981 retirement he returned to the Kapteyn Institute at Groningen and wrote several historical articles and books, mostly on international organizations and collaborations in astronomy, but also on Dutch farmhouses and the village in which he lived.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Mercury 18, 6, 197 (1989).

Some offices held

International Astronomical Union, President, 1976-79.

Biographical materials

Blaauw, Adriaan, “My Cruise Through the World of Astronomy,” Ann. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 42, 1-37 (2004).
Boland, W. & H. van Woerden, eds., Birth and Evolution of Massive Stars and Stellar Groups, Proceedings of the Symposium, Dwingeloo, Netherlands, September 24-26, 1984(D. Reidel, Dordrecht, 1985) contains many articles about Blaauw and a bibliography.
Echternach, E., “Adriaan Blaauw: Zestig Jaar Sterrenkunde,” Zenit 19, 204-08 (1992) [in Dutch].
Pottasch, Stuart R, “Adriaan Blaauw at 80,” ESO Messenger 76, 62-63 (1994).
University of Groningen, History Professor Adriaan Blaauw.


de Zeeuw, Tim, Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society 43, 43 (2011).
European Southern Observatory, 2 December 2010.
Groningen University, Kapteyn Astronomical Laboratory, December 2010.


AIP Center for History of Physics (several)
European Southern Observatory (several)
University of Groningen, 1999

Named after him

Minor Planet #2145 Blaauw
The Blaauw Observatory, University of Groningen


Papers, etc.

The AIP Niels Bohr Library & Archives has a 1979 oral history interview with Blaauw, and he is mentioned in several other interviews. The IAU archives for the period 1919-1970 were compiled and organized by Blaauw and deposited at the Archives of the Académie des Sciences in Paris. Papers relating to the European Southern Observatory (ESO) are in the ESO Archives.

Other References: Historical

“A. Blaauw is named Director of the ESO,” Astr. Nachr. 92, 48 (1970).

Blaauw, Adriaan, “Astronomy from the Southern Hemisphere,” video excerpt from "Europe Reaches for the Stars,” 2002.

Fricke, W., “Blaauw and the Cosmic Distance Scale,” in W. Boland & H. van Woerden, eds., Birth and Evolution of Massive Stars and Stellar Groups. Proc. Symp., Dwingeloo, Netherlands, 24-26 September 1984 (Reidel, Dordrecht, 1985), pp. 305-308.

Katgert-Merkelijn, J.K., “The Kenya Expeditions of Leiden Observatory,” J. Hist. Astron. 22, 267-96 (1991).

van Woerden, Hugo, “Adriaan Blaauw and the Revival of Groningen Astronomy (I),” in W. Boland & H. van Woerden, eds., Birth and Evolution of Massive Stars and Stellar Groups, Proceedings of the Symposium, Dwingeloo, Netherlands, September 24-26, 1984 (Reidel, Dordrecht, 1985), p. 321.

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Other References: Scientific

Boland, W. & H. van Woerden, eds., “Bibliography of Adriaan Blaauw, 1939-1985,” Birth and Evolution of Massive Stars and Stellar Groups, Proceedings of the Symposium, Dwingeloo, Netherlands, September 24-26, 1984, (D. Reidel, Dordrecht, 1985), pp. 349ff.

Blaauw, A., “A Determination of the Longitude of the Vertex and the Ratio of the Axes of the Velocity Ellipsoid from the Dispersions of the Proper Motions of Faint Stars Measured at the Radcliffe Observatory,” Bull. Astron. Inst. Netherlands 8, 305-12 (1939).

Blaauw, A., “A new procedure in the determination of magnitudes by comparison with a standard field,” Bull. Astron. Inst. Netherlands 9, 141-48 (1940).

Blaauw, A., “On Systematic Errors in the Proper Motions of the General Catalogue and on the Preference to Be Given Either to This Catalogue or the Dritter Fundamentalkatalog,” Bull. Astron. Inst. Netherlands 10, 19-28 (1944).

Blaauw, A., “A Study of the Scorpio-Centaurus Cluster,” Publications of the Kapteyn Astronomical Laboratory Groningen 52, 1-132 (1946) [Ph.D. thesis].

Struve, O. & A. Blaauw, “The Radial Velocity of RR Lyrae,” Ap.J. 108, 60-77 (1948).

Blaauw, A., “The Age and Evolution of the ζ Persei Group of O- and B-type Stars,” Bull. Astron. Inst. Netherlands 11, 405-13 (1952).

Blaauw, A., “The Evolution of Expanding Stellar Associations; the Age and Origin of the Scorpio-Centaurus Group,” Bull. Astr. Inst. Neth. 11, 414-19 (1952).

Blaauw, A., “The Velocity Distribution of the Interstellar Calcium Clouds,” Bull. Astron. Inst. Netherlands 11, 459-73 (1952).

Blaauw, A. & W.W. Morgan, “Expanding Motions in the Lacerta Aggregate, ” Ap.J. 117, 256-63 (1953).

Delhaye, J. & A. Blaauw, “New Proper Motions in the ζ Persei Association,” Bull. Astron. Inst. Netherlands 12, 72-75 (1953).

Blaauw, A. & H.R. Morgan, “On the Luminosities of the Nearest Cepheids, ” Bull. Astron. Inst. Netherlands 12, 95-98 (1954).

Blaauw, A. & W.W. Morgan, “The Space Motions of AE Aurigae and μ Columbae with Respect to the Orion Nebula,” Ap.J. 119, 625-30 (1954).

Blaauw, Adriaan, ed., Co-ordination of Galactic Research (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1955).

Blaauw, A., “On the Luminosities, Motions, and Space Distribution of the Nearer Northern O-B5 Stars,” Ap.J. 123, 408-39 (1956).

Blaauw, A., et al, eds., Second Conference on Co-ordination of Galactic Research; Symposium No.7 Held at Saltsjöbaden near Stockholm, June, 1957 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1959).

Blaauw, A., W.A. Hiltner, & H.L. Johnson, “Photoelectric Photometry of the Association III Cephei,” Ap.J. 130, 69-79 (1959).

Blaauw, A., C.S. Gum, J.L. Pawsey, & G. Westerhout, “The new I. A. U. System of Galactic Coordinates (1958 Revision),” MNRAS 121, 123-31 (1960).

Blaauw, A., “On the Origin of the O- and B-Type Stars with High Velocities (The ‘Run-Away Stars’) and Some Related Problems,” Bull. Astron. Inst. Netherlands 15, 265-90 (1961). [reprinted, with commentary, in Lang, Kenneth R. & Owen Gingerich, eds., A Source Book in Astronomy & Astrophysics, 1900-1975 (Harvard Univ. Press, 1979), 685-86, 690-95.]

Blaauw, A. & T.S. van Albada, “Radial Velocities of B-Type Stars in the Nearest Associations,” Ap.J. 137, 791-820 (1963).

Blaauw, A., “The Calibration of Luminosity Criteria,” in K.A. Strand, ed., Basic Astronomical Data: Stars and Stellar Systems (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1963), pp. 383-420.

Blaauw, Adriaan, “The O Associations in the Solar Neighborhood,” Ann. Revs. of Astronomy & Astrophysics 2, 213-46 (1964).

Borgman, J. & A. Blaauw, “Luminosities and photometric distances of early-type stars,” Bull. Astron. Inst. Netherlands 17, 358-79 (1964).

Blaauw, Adriaan & Maarten Schmidt, eds., Galactic Structure (Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1965).

Blaauw, A., “The Concept of Stellar Populations,” in A. Blaauw & M. Schmidt, eds., Galactic Structure (Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1965), p. 435-53.

Blaauw, A. & C.R. Tolbert, “Intermediate-velocity Features in the Local Hydrogen Layer,” Bull. Astron. Inst. Netherlands 18, 405-12 (1966).

Blaauw, A., “The Calibration of Luminosity Criteria,” in B. Hauck and Bengt E. Westerlund, eds., Problems of Calibration of Absolute Magnitudes and Temperature of Stars. Proceedings of IAU Symposium no. 54 Held in Geneva, Switzerland, Sept. 12-15, 1972 (Reidel, Dordrecht, 1973), pp. 47-56.

Blaauw, A., “Some Remarks on the OB Associations in Our Neighbourhood” Irish Astronomical Journal 16, 141-47 (1983).

Blaauw, A., “Star Formation in the Orion Arm,” in H. van Woerden, Ronald J. Allen, & W.B. Burton, eds., The Milky Way Galaxy; Proceedings of the 106th Symposium, Groningen, Netherlands, May 30-June 3, 1983 (Reidel, Dordrecht, 1985), pp. 335-42.

Blaauw, Adriaan, “OB Associations and the Fossil Record of Star Formation,” in The Physics of Star Formation and Early Stellar Evolution, NATO Advanced Science Institutes (ASI) Series C, Vol. 342, held in Agia Pelagia, Crete, Greece, May 27th - June 8th, C.J. Lada & N.D. Kylafis, eds. (Kluwer, Dordercht, 1991), pp. 125-54.

Blaauw, Adriaan, “Massive Runaway Stars,” in J.P. Cassinelli & E.B. Churchwell, eds., Massive Stars: Their Lives in the Interstellar Medium (Astronomical Society of the Pacific Conference Series vol. 35, San Francisco, 1993), pp. 207-19.

Blaauw, A., “Stellar Evolution and the Population Concept after 1950: The Vatican Conference,”in Pieter C. van der Kruit & Gerry Gilmore, eds., Stellar Populations, proceedings of the 164th symposium of the International Astronomical Union, held in the Hague, the Netherlands, August 15 -19, 1994. (International Astronomical Union. Symposium no. 164, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht), pp. 39-49.

de Zeeuw, P.T., R. Hoogerwerf, R., J.H.J. de Bruijne, A.G.A. Brown, & A. Blaauw, “A Hipparcos Census of the Nearby OB Associations.” Astronomical Journal 117, 354-99 (1999).

Brown, A.G A., A. Blaauw, R. Hoogerwerf, R., J.H.J. de Bruijne, & P.T. de Zeeuw, “OB Associations, ” in Charles J. Lada & Nikolaos D. Kylafis, eds., The Origin of Stars and Planetary Systems (Kluwer, 1999), p. 411 (1999) [abstract].

Hoogerwerf, R. & A. Blaauw, “The HipparcosTycho, TRC, and ACT catalogues — A Whole Sky Comparison of the Proper Motions,” Astr. & Astophys. 360, 391-98 (2000).

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Other Works: Popularizations, History, etc.

Blaauw, A., “Willem de Sitter,” Dictionary of Scientific Biography 12, 448-50 (Scribner’s, NY, 1973).

Blaauw, Adrian, “Jan H. Oort’s work,” in Hugo van Woerden, Willem N. Brouw, & Henk C. van de Hulst, eds., Oort and the Universe: A Sketch of Oort’s Research and Person. Liber Amicorum Presented to Jan Hendrik Oort on the Occasion of his 80th Birthday, 28 April, 1980 (Reidel, Dordrecht, 1980), pp. 1-20

Blaauw, Adrian, ESO’s Early History (ESO, Garching bei München, 1991).

Blaauw, Adrian, “The Early Years of the European Southern Observatory: An Effort in Europeanization,” J. Hist. Astron. 22, 67 Part 1, 87-99 (1991).

Blaauw, A., “ESO Historical Archives; Inventory per December 1992, (ESO, Garching bei München, 1992, pp. 3-40.

Blaauw, Adrian, “International Cooperation and Coordination in Astronomical Research,” in John R. Percy, et al, eds., Variable Star Research, an International Perspective. Proceedings of the first European Meeting of the AAVSO, (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992), pp. 3-7.

Blaauw, Adriaan & Maarten Schmidt, “Jan Hendrik Oort (1900-1992),” PASP 105, 681-85 (1993).

Blaauw, Adriaan, History of the IAU: The Birth and First Half-Century of the International Astronomical Union (Kluwer, Boston,1994).

Blaauw, Adriaan, “Essay Review: Yerkes Observatory, 1892-1950, by Donald Osterbrock,” Journal for the History of Astronomy 29, 80-82 (1998).

Blaauw, Adriaan, “FK3 or GC — A Difficult Choice Half a Century Ago,” Acta Historica Astronomiae 3, 114-22 (1998) [abstract].

Blaauw, Adriaan, Archives of the International Astronomical Union: Union Astronomique Internationale: Inventory for the Years 1919-1970 (IAU, Paris, 1999).

Blaauw, A., “Stellar Evolution and the Population Concept after 1950; The Vatican Conference,” Astrophysics and Space Science , 267, 45-54 (1999).

Blaauw, A., “Meeting Kapteyn in the Kapteyn Room, ” in P. C. van der Kruit & K. van Berkel, eds., The legacy of J. C. Kapteyn: Studies on Kapteyn and the Development of Modern Astronomy (Kluwer, Dordrecht, 2001), pp. 1-30.

Blaauw, A., Doopsgezinde Bijdragen; Nieuwe Reeks 27, 119–75 (2001). Erratum: Doopsgezinde Bijdragen; Nieuwe Reeks 28, 261 (2002). [a study of the 17th century origins of the Mennonite community in the author’s father’s native village].

Blaauw, Adriaan, “Reflections on ESO, 1957 - 2002. Perspectives from the Directors General past and present: Adriaan Blaauw, ESO Director General, 1970 - 1974,” ESO Messenger No. 109, p. 7 - 8 (2002).

Blaauw, Adriaan, “Ambartsumian, Victor Amazaspovitch,” Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 40-41.

Blaauw, Adriaan, “Easton, Cornelis,” Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), p. 323.

Blaauw, Adriaan, “Kapteyn, Jacobus Cornelius,” Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 611-12.

Blaauw, Adriaan, “Oort, Jan Hendrick,” Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 853-55.

Blaauw, Adriaan, “Plaut, Lukas,” Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 914-15.

Blaauw, Adriaan, “Sitter, Willem de,” Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 1063-64.

Blaauw, Adriaan, “Van Maanen, Adriaan,” Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 1173-74.

Blaauw, Adriaan, “Van Rhijn, Pieter Johannes,” Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 1174-75.