Jesse Leonard Greenstein

Jesse Leonard Greenstein


Date of Birth
October 15, 1909
Date of Death
October 21, 2002

Jesse Greenstein was born in New York and educated at Harvard University, with four depression years spent in business between his master’s degree and Ph.D. studies. He worked at Yerkes Observatory, which included McDonald Observatory, from 1937 to 1948. He became the founding head of the graduate program in astronomy at the California Institute of Technology at the time of the inauguration of the 200-inch telescope and the joint operation of Palomar and Mt. Wilson Observatories, and he directed the Caltech astronomy program until 1972. A spectroscopist with interests in theory and instrumentation, he explored the interstellar medium, the colors of nebulae, abundances of the elements and isotopes, and peculiar stars. His abundance project showed that stars in globular clusters and the galactic halo have smaller abundances of heavy elements and are therefore older than the Sun. He made detailed studies of white dwarf stars, observing hundreds with the Hale Telescope and determining their masses, luminosities, temperatures, compositions, gravitational redshifts, magnetic fields, and motions. During World War II he and Louis Henyey developed a wide-field camera which had both military and astronomical applications. He collaborated in the discovery of quasars by Maarten Schmidt in 1963. Greenstein was an early supporter of radio astronomy, and instigated the founding of Caltech’s Owens Valley Radio Observatory. He was an important advisor to government agencies and held many administrative positions, including chairing the National Research Council Astronomy Survey Committee, which published the astronomical community’s recommendations for funding for astronomy and astrophysics in the 1970s.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Weaver, Harold F., PASP 83, 243-47 (1971).

Other awards
American Astronomical Society, Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, 1970.
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold Medal, 1975, presented by D.E. Blackwell, QJRAS 16, 356-57 (1975).

Biographical materials

Boesgaard, A.M., “The Scientific Career of Jesse L. Greenstein,” IAU Symposium 132, xvii-xxiii (1988).
Garstang, Roy H., Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 438-40.
Greenstein, J.L., “An Astronomical Life,” Ann. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 22, 1-35 (1984).
Kraft, Robert P.Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Science 86, 1-27 (2005).


Chang, Kenneth, New York Times, 24 October 2002
Engineering and Science, LXVI, no. 1 (2003)
Gunn, James, Bull. Amer. Astr. Soc. 35, 1463-66 (2003).
Naeye, Robert, Mercury 32, 2, 5-6 (Mar/Apr 2003)
Sargent, Wallace L.W.Astronomy & Geophysics 45, 2.38-2.40 (2004).
Trimble, Virginia, PASP 115, 890-96 (2003).
Wallerstein, George, Physics Today 56, 12, 84 (2003).


Caltech Archives (many)
AIP Center for History of Physics

Named after him

Minor Planet #4612 Greenstein


Papers, etc.

Greenstein’s papers, several oral history interviews, and many photographs are at the Caltech Archives. The AIP Niels Bohr Library & Archives has several oral history interviews and interviews with many colleagues. He was interviewed by Timothy Ferris in the 1970s (transcript at AIP) and by Kip Thorne in 1985.

Other References: Historical

“Retiring this Year,” Engineering and Science 43, 28 (1980).

DeVorkin, David, “The Maintenance of a Scientific Institution: Otto Struve, the Yerkes Observatory, and its Optical Bureau during the Second World War,” Minerva 18, 595-623 (1980).

DeVorkin, David, Science with a Vengeance (Springer-Verlag, 1992).

Greenstein, J.L., ed., Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 1970s (National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC, 1972). [The "Greenstein Report"]

Greenstein, J.L., “Optical and Radio Astronomers in the Early Years,” in The Early Years of Radio Astronomy: Reflections Fifty Years after Jansky’s Discovery, W.T. Sullivan III, ed. (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 1984), pp. 67-81.

Greenstein, J., “How It Was,” Engineering and Science 47, 3, 20-26 (1984) [excerpts from 1984 Oral History interview by Rachel Prud'homme].

Greenstein, Jesse L., “An Ancient Revisits Cosmology,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 90, 4878-81 (1993).

Greenstein, J.L., “The Early Years of Radio Astronomy at Caltech,” Australian Journal of Physics 47, 5, 555-60 (1994).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “Lee Alvin Dubridge,” Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences 72, 88-113 (1997).

Hearnshaw, J. B., The Analysis of Starlight (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1986).

McCray, Patrick, “The Contentious Role of a National Observatory,” Physics Today 56, 10, 55ff (2003).

McCray, W. Patrick, Giant Telescopes: Astronomical Ambition and the Promise of Technology (Harvard U. Press, 2004).

Pagel, B.E.J., “Compositions of Cool Stars,” QJRAS 11,172-87 (1970).

Struve, Otto, “Photography of the Counterglow,” Sky & Telescope 10, 215-18 (1951).

Thorne, Kip S., Black Holes & Time Warps (W.W. Norton, 1994).

Trimble, Virginia & J.G. Cohen, “Some Faint Stars and a Bright One – Greenstein, Jesse – Symposium on Low Luminosity Stars,” Engineering and Science 48, 4, 10 (1985).

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Other References: Scientific

Greenstein, Jesse, “An Investigation of Systematic Errors in the Tabulated Colors of Stars,” Harvard Coll. Obs. Bull. #876, 32-37 (1930).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “The Periods and Light Curves of the Variables in Messier 3,” Astr. Nachr. 257, 301-30 (1935).

Whipple, F.L. & J.L. Greenstein, “On the Origin of Interstellar Radio Disturbances,” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 23, 177-81 (1937).

Greenstein, Jesse L. & Harlow Shapley, “The Effect of Absorbing Clouds on the General Absorption Coefficient,” Annals of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College 105, 359-69 (1937).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “The Theory of Interstellar Absorption,” Harvard College Observatory Circular 422, 1-36 (1937).

Greenstein, Jesse L. & L.G. Henyey, “Some New Spectra of Galactic Nebulae,” Ap.J. 87, 79-80 (1938).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “A Determination of Selective Absorption Based on the Spectrophotometry of Reddened B Stars,” Ap.J. 87, 151-75 (1938).

Henyey, L.G. & J.L. Greenstein, “The Theory of the Colors of Reflection Nebulae,” Ap.J. 88, 580-604 (1938).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “The Temperatures of the Extragalactic Nebulae and the Red-Shift Correction,” Ap.J. 88, 605-17 (1938).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “The Spectrum of Upsilon Sagittarii,” Ap.J. 91, 438-72 (1940).

Henyey, L.G. & J.L. Greenstein, “Diffuse Radiation in the Galaxy,” Ap.J. 93, 70-83 (1941).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “The Spectrum of Alpha Carinae,” Ap.J. 95, 161-200 (1942).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “The Spectrum of υ Sagittarii in the Visual Region,” Ap.J. 97, 252-54 (1943).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “The Ratio of Interstellar Absorption to Reddening,” Ap.J. 104, 403-13 (1946).

Reber, Grote & Jesse L. Greenstein, “Radio-Frequency Investigations of Astronomical Interest,” Observatory 67, 15-26 (1947).

Greenstein, Jesse L. & Walter S. Adams, “High-Dispersion Spectra of υ" Sagittarii,” Ap.J. 106, 339 (1947).

Davis, Leverett, Jr. & Jesse L. Greenstein, “The Polarization of Starlight by Interstellar Dust Particles in a Galactic Magnetic Field,” Phys. Rev. 75, 1605 (1949).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “Interstellar Matter,” in Hynek, J.A., ed., Astrophysics (McGraw-Hill, NY, 1951).

Davis, Leverett, Jr. & Jesse L. Greenstein, “The Origin of Interstellar Polarization,” Astronomical Journal 55, 71 (1950).

Davis, Leverett, Jr. & Jesse L. Greenstein, “Polarization of Starlight by Aligned Dust Grains,” Ap. J. 114, 206-40 (1951).

Lyman Spitzer, Jr. & Jesse L. Greenstein, “Continuous Emission from Planetary Nebulae,” Ap. J. 114, 407-20 (1951).

Minkowski, Rudolph & Jesse L. Greenstein, “The Power Radiated by Some Discrete Sources of Radio Noise,” Ap.J. 119, 238 (1954).

Greenstein, Jesse L. “New Features in the Spectra of White Dwarfs,” Astronomical Journal 59, 322 (1954).

Oke, J.B. & Jesse L. Greenstein, “The Rotational Velocities of A-, F-, and G-Type Giant Stars,” Ap.J. 120, 384-90 (1954).

Merrill, Paul W. & Jesse L. Greenstein, “Revised List of Absorption Lines in the Spectrum of R Andromedae,” Ap.J. Supp. 2, 225-40 (1956).

Fowler, W.A., & J.L. Greenstein, “Element-Building Reactions in Stars,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 42, 173-80 (1956).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “Evolution and the White Dwarfs,” PASP 68, 501 (1956).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “The Abundances of the Chemical Elements in the Galaxy and the Theory of Their Origin,” PASP 68, 185 (1956).

Greenstein, Jesse L. & Mildred S. Matthews, “Studies of the White Dwarfs. I. Broad Features in White Dwarf Spectra,” Ap.J. 126, 14-18 (1957).

Greenstein, Jesse L. & Willem J. Luyten, “Studies of the White Dwarfs. II. Some New White Dwarfs,” Ap.J. 126, 19-22 (1957).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “Studies of the White Dwarfs. III. The Recurrent Nova WZ SGE as a Probable White Dwarf,” Ap.J. 126, 23-27 (1957).

Greenstein, Jesse L. & Philip C. Keenan, “Abundances of Metals, CN, and CH in Giant Stars,” Ap.J. 127, 172 (1958).

Helfer, H.L., G. Wallerstein, & J.L. Greenstein, “Abundances in Some Population II K Giants,” Ap.J. 129, 700 (1959) [reprinted in the centennial edition Ap.J. 525, 876 (1999) with a modern commentary by Robert P. Kraft].

Aller, Lawrence H. & Jesse L. Greenstein, “The Abundances of the Elements in G-Type Subdwarfs,” Ap.J. Supps. 5, 139 (1960).

Greenstein, Jesse L., ed., Stellar Atmospheres (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1960).

Parker, Robert, Jesse L. Greenstein, H.L. Helfer, & George Wallerstein, “Abundances in G Dwarf Stars. IV. a Redetermination of the Abundances in G Dwarfs in the Hyades,” Ap.J. 133, 101-06 (1961).

Kraft, Robert P., Jon Mathews, & Jesse L. Greenstein, “Binary Stars among Cataclysmic Variables. II. Nova WZ Sagittae: A Possible Radiator of Gravitational Waves,” Ap.J. 136, 312-314 (1962).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “Solar and Stellar Magnetism,” Science 142, 686-88 (1963).

Greenstein, Jesse L., & Thomas A. Matthews, “Red-Shift of the Unusual Radio Source: 3C 48,” Nature 197, 1041-42 (1963).

Wallerstein, George & Jesse L. Greenstein, “The Chemical Composition of Two CH Stars, HD 26 and HD 201626,” Ap.J. 139, 1163-79 (1964).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “The History of Stars and Galaxies,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 25, 549-65 (1964).

Greenstein, Jesse L. & Maarten Schmidt, “The Quasi-Stellar Radio Sources 3C 48 and 3C 273,” Ap.J. 140, 1-34 (1964) [reprinted in the centennial edition Ap.J. 525, 1021 (1999) with a modern commentary by Jesse L. Greenstein].

Stawikowski, Antoni & Jesse L. Greenstein, “The Isotope Ratio C12/C13 in a Comet.,” Ap.J. 140, 1280-91 (1964).

Greenstein, Jesse L. & Olin J. Eggen, “The Calibration of the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram for Sub-luminous Stars,” Vistas in Astronomy 8, 63-73 (1966).

Eggen, Olin & J.L. Greenstein, “Spectra, Colors, Luminosities, and Motions of the White Dwarfs,” Ap.J. 141, 83 (1965)142, 925 (1965)150, 927 (1967).

Cohen, Judith G., Armin J. Deutsch, & Jesse L. Greenstein, “The Spectrum of αCanum Venaticorum, 5000-6700 Å” Ap.J. 156, 629 (1969).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “The Lowell Suspect White Dwarfs,” Ap.J. 158, 281-93 (1969).

Greenstein, Jesse L., G. Neugebauer, & E.E. Becklin, “The Einstein Redshift in White Dwarfs,” Ap.J. 161, 519-31 (1970).

Greenstein, Jesse L. & Virginia L. Trimble, “The Einstein Redshift in White Dwarfs,” Ap.J. 149, 283 (1967), 175, L1 (1972)177, 441 (1972).

Greenstein, Jesse L., G. Neugebauer, & E.E. Becklin, “The Faint End of the Main Sequence,” Ap.J. 161, 519 (1970).

Greenstein, Jesse L. & R. Minkowski, “ An Atlas of Supernova Spectra,” Ap.J. 182, 225-43 (1973).

Greenstein, Jesse L. & Anneila Sargent, “The Nature of Faint Blue Stars in the Halo. II,” Ap.J. Supp. 28, 157-209 (1974).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “Multichannel Spectrophotometry and the Luminosities of White Dwarfs,” Astronomical Journal 81, 323-38 (1976).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “Degenerate Stars with Helium Atmospheres,” Ap.J. 210, 524-32 (1976).

Greenstein, Jesse L., A. Boksenberg, R. Carswell, & K. Shortridge,“The Rotation and Gravitational Redshift of White Dwarfs,” Ap.J. 212, 186-97 (1979).

Greenstein, Jesse L. & J.B. Oke,“Ultraviolet Spectrophotometry of Degenerate Stars,” Ap.J. 229, L141-L144 (1979).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “The Degenerate Stars with Hydrogen Atmospheres. I,” Ap.J. 233, 239-52 (1979).

Vauclair, G., S. Vauclair, & J.L. Greenstein,“The Chemical Evolution of White Dwarf Atmospheres – Diffusion and Accretion,” Astronomy and Astrophysics 80,79-96 (1979).

Greenstein, J.L., “Masses, Radii, Temperatures, Luminosities and Surface Compositions of White Dwarfs,” in Van Horn, H.M., V. Weidemann, eds., White Dwarfs and Variable Degenerate Stars:Proceedings of the Colloquium, July 30-August 2, 1979 and Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Workshop on Novae, Dwarf Novae and Other Cataclysmic Variables, University of Rochester, Rochester, N.Y., August 3, 1979 (Univ. Rochester Press, Rochester, NY, 1979), p. 1.

Greenstein, Jesse L, “Comparison of Stellar Observations and the Theory of Nucleosynthesis,” Essays in Nuclear Astrophysics: Presented to William A. Fowler, on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday edited by C.A. Barnes, D.D. Clayton, D.N. Schramm (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK & NY, 1982), p. 45.

Greenstein, Jesse L., “A Spectrophotometric Study of Some Cool White Dwarfs,” MNRAS 203, 1213-24 (1983).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “Spectrophotometry of the White Dwarfs,” Ap.J. 276, 602-20 (1984).

Filippenko, Alexei V. & Jesse L. Greenstein, “ Faint Spectrophotometric Standard Stars for Large Optical Telescopes. I, ”PASP 96, 530-36 (1984).

Koester, D., et al, “Atmospheric Parameters of the Variable DB White Dwarf GD 358,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 149, 423-28 (1985).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “The White-Dwarf Color-Luminosity Relation and Its Intrinsic Width, ”PASP 97, 827-34 (1985).

Dearborn, D.S.P., et al, “On the Nature of the Dwarf Carbon Star G77-61,” Ap.J. 300, 314-24 (1986).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “The Frequency of Hydrogen White Dwarfs as Observed at High Signal to Noise Ratio,” Ap.J. 304, 334-55 (1986).

Greenstein, Jesse L., “Bolometric Luminosities and Colors for K and M Dwarfs and the Subluminous Stars of the Halo, ”PASP 101, 787-810 (1989).

Greenstein, Jesse L. & James W. Liebert, “Spectrophotometry of white dwarfs as observed at high signal-to-noise ratio. II,” Ap.J. 360, 662-84 (1990).

Graham, James R., et al, “Infrared Photometry and Spectroscopy of the Brown Dwarf Candidate PC0025+0447,” Astronomical Journal 104, 2016-21 (1992).

Wesemael, F., et al, “An Atlas of Optical Spectra of White-dwarf Stars,” PASP 105, 761-78 (1993).

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Other Works: Popularizations, History, etc.

Greenstein, Jesse L, “High-Dispersion Spectra,” Sky & Telescope 1, 14 (1942).

Greenstein, Jesse L, “The NSF and Astronomy,” Sky & Telescope 12, 282 (1953).

Greenstein, Jesse L, “More About the NSF and Astronomy,” Sky & Telescope 13, 291 (1954).

Greenstein, Jesse L, “Perspectives on Space Astronomy,” Sky & Telescope 64, 317 (1982).

Greenstein, Jesse L, “All Hail the Keck Ten-meter Telescope Project, ” Physics Today 38, 2, 136 (1985).

Greenstein, Jesse L, “Pioneers Remembered - Exploration of Upper Atmosphere, ”Sky & Telescope 65, 206 (1983).

Greenstein, Jesse L, J.B. Oke, & Harry Shipman, “On the Redshift of Sirius B,” QJRAS 26, 279-88 (1985).

Greenstein, Jesse L, “Photographic Spectra of White Dwarfs, ”Sky & Telescope 72, 349 (1986).

Freeman, Ken C., Albert Whitford, Jesse Greenstein, Katherine & Gerald Kron, & Virginia Trimble, “Obituary: Olin Jeuck Eggen, 1919-1998,” BAAS 32, 1661-62 (2000).