Bartholomeus Jan Bok

Bartholomeus Jan Bok


Date of Birth
April 28, 1906
Date of Death
August 5, 1983

Bart Bok was born in the Netherlands and educated at the Universities of Leiden and Groningen, earning his doctorate at the latter under P.J. van Rhijn. He worked at Harvard University from 1929–57, and for the next nine years he directed the Mt. Stromlo Observatory in Australia. His last years were at the University of Arizona, where he directed the Steward Observatory from 1966 to 1970. In the early 1940s he helped set up the National Observatory of Mexico at Tonantzintla, and ten years later he performed a similar job for Harvard’s southern station in South Africa. In Australia he helped establish the Siding Spring Observatory. Working closely with his wife, Priscilla Fairfield Bok, he studied the structure and evolution of star clusters and the Galaxy, mapping the spiral arms of the Milky Way, especially the Carina region, and the Magellanic Clouds. Bok initiated radio astronomy at Harvard and promoted it elsewhere. His investigations of interstellar gas and dust led to studies of star formation, and he became known for his work on small dark nebulae now called Bok globules. He was an important teacher, writer, leader, and popularizer of astronomy.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Mercury 6, 4, 1 (1977).

Other awards

American Astronomical Society, Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, 1982
Association pour le Développement International de l’Observatoire de Nice, ADION medal, 1971
Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Dorothea Klumpke-Roberts AwardMercury 11, 155 (1982).
National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Jansky Prize, 1972.

Some offices held

American Astronomical Society, President, 1972-74.

Biographical materials

Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, Bok, Bart Jan.
Graham, A., L. M. Wade and R. M. Price, Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Science 64, 72-97 (1994).
Levy, David H., The Man Who Sold the Milky Way: A Biography of Bart Bok (University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1993).
Mercury 13, 2 (Mar/Apr 1984). [whole issue]
Liller, W., “Bart Bok in the Late and Middle 40’s,” Astron. Quarterly 6, 47-50 (1988).
Miller, F. D., “Bart Bok across a Half-Century,” Astron. Quarterly 6, 45-47 (1988).
White, Raymond E., “Bart J. Bok (1906-83) — A Personal Memoir from a ‘Grandson,’” Sky & Telescope 66, 303-06 (1983).


Gascoigne, S. C. B., Australian Physicist 20, 229 (1983).
Lada, C. J., QJRAS 28, 4, 539-42 (1987).
Astronomy 11, 64 (11/83).
Millman, Peter, JRASC 78, 3-7 (1984).
NY Times Biographical Service 14, 900-01 (8/83).
Heeschen, David S., Physics Today 36, 12, 73 (1983).
Whiteoak, J.B., “Student Memories of Bart Bok, an Astronomical Godfather,” Proc. Astron. Soc. Aust. 5, 608-610 (1984).

Academic genealogy



AIP Center for History of Physics (many)
From The Man Who Sold the Milky Way

Named after him

Minor Planet #1983 Bok (with Priscilla Fairfield Bok)
Bok globules
The Astronomical Society of Australia and the Australian Academy of Science, The Bok Prize
Steward Observatory, The Bok Telescope
American Astronomical Society and Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Priscilla and Bart Bok Awards


Papers, etc.

Bok’s papers are at the University of Arizona Libraries. The AIP Niels Bohr Library & Archives has a series of 1978 oral history interviews with Bok. Many other interviews mention him.There is a 1973 taped interview at the National Library of Australia. There is a 1974 oral history interview at the University of Arizona Libraries.

Other References: Historical

Bhathal, Ragbir, Australian Astronomers: Achievements at the Frontiers of Astronomy (National Library of Australia, Canberra, 1996).

Bok, Bart J., “Some Trends in Galactic Research,” PASP 80, 501 (1968).

Bok, Bart J., “Dark Nebulae, Globules, and Protostars,” PASP 89, 597 (1977). [lecture given on receipt of Bruce Medal]

Evans, David Stanley, Under Capricorn : A History of Southern Hemisphere Astronomy (A. Hilger, 1988).

Frame, Tom & Don Faulkner, Stromlo: An Australian Observatory (Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, Australia, 2003).

Gascoigne, S.C.B., “Bok, Wooley, and Australian Astronomy,” Historical Records of Australian Science 9, 119-126 (1992).

Haynes, Raymond, Roslynn Haynes; David Malin; & Richard McGee, Explorers of the Southern Sky. A History of Australian Astronomy (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996).

Hyland, A. R. Harry & Donald J. Faulkner, “From the Sun to the Universe—the Woolley and Bok Directorships at Mt. Stromlo, Proc. Astronomical Society of Australia 8, 2, 216-228 (1989).

Papagiannis, Michael D., “The Priscilla and Bart Bok Awards,” Mercury 22, 116-117 (Jul/Aug 1993).

Whiteoak, J.B., “Student Memories of Bart Bok - an Astronomical Godfather,” Proc. Astron. Soc. Australia 5, 608-10 (1984).

Wright, F.W., “Bart J. Bok and Navigation during World War II,” Astron. Quarterly 5, 19, 151-56 (1986).

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Other References: Scientific

Bok, B.J., “On the oscillating Ca+ lines in O and B stars,” Bulletin of the Astronomical Institutes of the Netherlands 4, 9-12 (1927).

van Rhijn, P.J., W J. Klein Wassink, & B.J. Bok, “The Proper Motions of 2292 Stars Derived from Plates Taken at the Radcliffe Observatory,” Publications of the Kapteyn Astronomical Laboratory Groningen 42, 1-18 (1928).

Bok, Bart J., “Note on Galactic Rotation,” Harvard Col. Obs. Bull. 876, 8-14 (1930).

Bok, Bart J., “The Apparent Clustering of External Galaxies,” Harvard College Observatory Bulletin No. 895, 1-8 (1934).

Bok, B.J., “Galactic Dynamics and the Cosmic Time-Scale,” Observatory 59, 76-85 (1936).

Bok, Bart J., The Distribution of the Stars in Space (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1937).

Bok, Bart J., “Galactic Density Gradients,” Ap.J. 90, 249-70 (1939).

Bok, Bart J. & Edith F. Reilly, “Small Dark Nebulae,” Ap.J. 105, 255-57 (1947).

Bok, Bart J., “The Magellanic Clouds,” Ann. Revs. Astron. Astrophys. 4, 95-144 (1966).

Basinski, J.M., B.J. Bok, & P.F. Bok, “A Colour-Magnitude Array for a Region in the Core of the Small Magellanic Cloud,” MNRAS 137, 55-67 (1967).

Bok, Bart J., “The Magellanic Clouds,” JRASC 63, 3, 105-24 (1969).

Bok, Bart J. & Priscilla F. Bok, “Photometric Standards for the Southern Hemisphere. I,” Astronomical Journal 74, 1125-30 (1969).

Bok, Bart J., Priscilla F. Bok, & Ellis W. Miller, “Photometric Standards for the Southern Hemisphere. II,” Astronomical Journal 77, 733-44 (1972).

Bok, Bart J. & Carolyn Cordwell McCarthy, “A Study of Dark Nebula,” in M.A. Gordon & L.E. Snyder, eds., Molecules in the Galactic Environment, Proceedings of a Symposium, held at the University of Virginia, November 4-7, 1971 (Wiley, NY, 1973) pp. 54-92.

Bok, Bart J. & Carolyn Cordwell McCarthy, “Optical Data for Selected Barnard Objects,” Astronomical Journal 79, 42-44 (1974).

Bok, Bart J., “Dark Nebulae, Globules, and Protostars,” PASP 89, 597-611 (1977).

Bok, Bart J., “Star formation in or very close to a southern globule.” PASP 90, 489-90 (1978).

Bok, B. J., “Some Current trends in Milky Way Research (the Henry Norris Russell Lecture),” Ap.J. 273, 411-20 (1983).

Lynds, Beverly, ed., Dark Nebulae, Globules, and Protostars (Univ. of Arizona Press, 1971). [proceedings of a symposium held to honor Bok on his retirement as Director of Steward Observatory]

Yun, João Lin & Clemens, Dan P., “Star Formation in Small Globules: Bart Bok Was Correct,” Ap.J. 365L, 73 (1990).

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Other Works: Popularizations, History, etc.

Bok, Bart, & Margaret Mayall, “Scientists Look at Astrology,” Scientific Monthly 52, 233-244 (1941).

Bok, Bart J. and Priscilla F. Bok, The Milky Way (Harvard Univ. Press, 5 editions, 1941-1981).

Bok, B.J., “The Future of Astronomy in Australia, ” Australian Journal of Science 25, 285 (1963).

Bok, Bart J., “Shapley's Researches on the Magellanic Clouds,” PASP 77, 416-21 (1965).

Bok, Bart J., “Early Phases of Star Formation,” Sky & Telescope 61, 284–93 (1981).

Bok, Bart J., “The Milky Way Galaxy,” Sci. Amer. 244, no. 3, 92–94, 96, 100 (1981).

Bok, Bart J., “The Promise of the Space Telescope,” Mercury 12, 66 (1983).

Bok, Bart J., “Mexican Astronomy, 1930–1950,” Rev. Mexicana Astron. Astrof. 7, 21-25 (1983).