Marcel Gilles Jozef Minnaert

Marcel Gilles Jozef Minnaert


Date of Birth
February 12, 1893
Date of Death
October 26, 1970

Marcel Minnaert studied biology at the University of Ghent in his native Belgium and physics at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. After World War I he joined the solar physics group at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. From 1937 to 1963 he was director of the Utrecht Observatory. He and his students led in the development of detailed quantitative analysis of the solar spectrum, culminating in the publication of the famous “Utrecht Atlas” in 1940. Their development of the curve of growth method made it possible for astronomers to obtain precise information about stellar atmospheres. He investigated light scattering from the surface of the moon and participated in the naming of many lunar features. Imprisoned during World War II, he taught astronomy and physics to his fellow prisoners. After the war he was active in international organizations. A revered teacher, Minnaert published a collection of poems related to astronomy and popular books, including the classic Nature Of Light And Colour in the Open Air, as well as textbooks.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Alter, Dinsmore, PASP 63, 265-68 (1951).

Other awards

Association pour le Développement International de l’Observatoire de Nice, ADION medal, 1964
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1947, presented by W.M.H. Greaves, MNRAS 107, 243-45 (1947).

Biographical materials

de Jager, C., Dictionary of Scientific Biography 9, 414-16.
Molenaar, Leo, “Marcel Minnaert bij zijn honderdste geboortejaar,” Zenit 20, 414-418 (1993) [in Dutch].
Molenaar, Leo, Minnaert: Een Leven Lang Leraar (1998) [in Dutch].
Molenaar, Leo, De rok van het universum: Marcel Minnaert, astrofysicus 1893-1970 (Balans, Amsterdam, 2003) [in Dutch].
Molenaar, Leo, Marcel Minnaert, astrofysicus 1893-1970 [in Dutch]
Müller, Edith A., “Dedication to Marcel Gilles Jozef Minnaert,” in Education in and History of Modern Astronomy, Annals of the NY Acad. of Sci. 198, 5-7 (1972) ed. by R. Berendzen.
Pecker, J.-C., in Schmidt, Marian, ed., Hommes de Science, (Hermann, Paris, 1990) [in French].
Unsöld, AlbrechtSterne und Menschen (Springer-Verlag, 1972), pp. 61-65 [in German].
van Roode, Steven M., Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 787-88.


Ashbrook, J., Sky & Telescope 40, 6, 344 (1970).
l’Astronomie 843, 525 (1970).
de Jager, C., Astrophys. Space Sci. 10, 183-185 (1971).
de Jager, C., QJRAS 12, 338-341 (1971).
Houtgast, J., Orion Schaffhausen 28 Jahrgang, p. 195 (1970).
Nature 229, 214 (1971).
Pecker, Jean-Claude, Icarus 15, 147-148 (1971).
Pecker, Jean-Claude, Solar Physics 17, 1-3 (1971).
Unsöld, A.Solar Physics 17, 3-5 (1971).
More obituaries


Rob Rutten’s Astronomy Shots (1967, 1968)
Five portraits from Leo Molenaar’s biography

Named after him

The Minnaert correction (or Minnaert albedo)
Lunar crater Minnaert
Minor planet #1670 Minnaert
Minnaert Building at the University of Utrecht.


Papers, etc.

Minnaert’s papers are at the Noord-Hollands Archief in Haarlem. There exists a manuscript biography by Dirk Jan Struik.

Other References: Historical

Elbers, Astrid, “The Establishment of the New Field of Radio Astronomy in the Post-War Netherlands: A Search for Allies and Funding,” Centaurus 54, 265-285 (2012).

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

Minnaert, M., “Forty Years of Solar Spectroscopy,” in C. de Jager, ed., The Solar Spectrum: Proceedings of the Symposium, Held at the University of Utrecht, August 1963 (Reidel, Dordrecht, 1965), pp. 3-25.

Minnaert, M., “International Co-operation in Astronomy,” Vistas in Astronomy 1, 5-11 (1957).

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Other References: Scientific

Collins, James George, The Use of the Minnaert Formula for Blended Spectra (Dissertation, Indiana University, 1971).

Minnaert, M., “Recent Data on Solar Radiation Converted into Absolute Measure, ”Bull. Astr. Inst. Neth. 2, 75-79 (1924).

Minnaert, M., “The Intensities of Spectral Lines,” Observatory 51, 347-48 (1928).

Minnaert, M., “The Distribution of Energy near the Sun’s Limb,” MNRAS 89, 197-207 (1928).

Minnaert, M. & G.F.W. Mulders, “Intensitätsmessungen an Fraunhoferlinien im Wellenlängengebiet 5150 bis 5270 Å-E,” Zeitschrift für Astrophysik 1, 192-99 (1930). [A translation, “Intensity Measurement of the Frahunhofer Lines in the Wavelength Region 5150 to 5270 Å”, with commentary, appears in Lang, Kenneth R. & Owen Gingerich, eds., A Source Book in Astronomy & Astrophysics, 1900-1975 (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1979), p. 259-63.]

Minnaert, M., ““On the Continuous Spectrum of the Corona and its Polarisation,” Zeitschrift für Astrophysik 1, 209-36 (1930).

Minnaert, M. & G.F.W. Mulders, “Dopplereffekt und Dämpfung bei den Fraunhoferschen Linien,” Zeitschrift für Astrophysik 2, 165-81 (1931).

Minnaert, M.G.J. & J. van der Bilt, “On the Use of Colour-Filters in the Visual Photometry of Red Stars,” MNRAS 92, 422-38 (1932).

Minnaert, M. & A.J.M. Wanders, “Zur Theorie der Sonnenflecke,” Zeitschrift für Astrophysik 5, 297-320 (1932).

Minnaert, M., “The Measurement of Equivalent Widths as a Method for the Investigation of Line Profiles, ” Observatory57, 328-42 (1934).

Minnaert, M., “Die Profile der äußeren Teile der starken Fraunhoferschen Linien,” Zeit. für Astrophysik 10, 40 (1935).

Minnaert, M. & A.J.M. Wanders, “Limb Darkening and Energy Distribution of the Solar Radiation, Derived from the Theoretical Absorption Coefficients,” Zeitschrift für Astrophysik 12, 260-62 (1936).

Minnaert, M., “On the Possibility of Detecting the General Magnetic Field of a Star, ” Observatory60, 292-94 (1937).

Minnaert, M, G.F.W. Mulders, & J. Houtgast, Photometric Atlas of the Solar Spectrum from λ3612 to λ8771 with an Appendix from λ3332 to λ3637 (Sterrewacht Sonnenborgh, Utrecht, 1940). [the famous Utrecht Atlas]

Minnaert, M., “The Reciprocity Principle in Lunar Photometry,” Ap.J. 93, 403-10 (1941).

Minnaert, M.G.J., “The Fraunhofer Lines of the Solar Spectrum (George Darwin Lecture),” MNRAS 107, 274-90 (1947).

Minnaert, M., “The Utrecht Catalogue of Fraunhofer-line intensities,” Astronomical Journal 52, 128 (1947) [abstract].

Minnaert, M., “The Theoretical Intensities of Faint Fraunhofer Lines, ”Bull. Astr. Inst. Neth. 10, 339-46 (1948)10, 399-404 (1948); and 11, 51-53A (1949).

Minnaert, M. G. J., “The Determination of Cosmic Abundances,” MNRAS 117, 315-35 (1957).

Moore, Charlotte E., M. G. J. Minnaert, & J. Houtgast, The Solar Spectrum 2935 Å to 8770 Å (National Bureau of Standards Monograph, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1966).

Minnaert, M.G.J., On the Instrumental Profile of the Utrecht Photometric Atlas,” MNRAS 146, 91 (1969).

Minnaert, M. G., “Effect of Pulverization on Albedo of Lunar Rocks,” Icarus 11, 332-37 (1969).

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Other Works: Popularizations, Fiction, etc.

Clark, Thomas A. & John Christie, John, In the Open Air: Homage to M. Minnaert (Circle Press, Guildford, UK, 1982). [poetry and art]

Minnaert, M.G.J., Practical Work in Elementary Astronomy (1969; revised and extended by J. Kleczek and republished as Exercises in Astronomy by Reidel, Dordrecht, 1987).

Minnaert, M., De Sterrekunde en de Mensheid (Servire, Den Haag, 1946). [Astronomy and Mankind].

Minnaert, M., “The Significance of Astronomy for Biology,” PASP 63, 272-82 (1951).

Minnaert, M., “International Co-operation in Astronomy,” Vistas in Astronomy 1, 1, 5-11 (1955).

Minnaert, M. G. J., The Nature Of Light And Colour in the Open Air (Dover, NY, 1954, reprinted as Light and Color in the Outdoors by Springer, NY, 1993, 1995, with L. Seymour).

Minnaert, M. G. J., Dichters over Sterren (Van Longhum Slaterus’ Uitgevers Maatschappij, Arnhem, 1949). [a book of poems on astronomy]

Minnaert, M. “The Relief Effect in Looking at Lunar Photographs,” Sky & Telescope 33, 90 (1967).

Minnaert, M., “L'unité de l'Univers,” L’Astronomie 81, 181-89 (1967) [in French].