Maarten Schmidt

Schmidt, Maarten (1929-) is a Dutch astronomer. He identified the starlike objects now known as quasars. The word quasar is a shortened form of the term quasi-stellar radio source. Quasars are also known as quasi-stellar objects. They are among the most distant objects yet detected in the universe. The study of quasars can provide information about early stages of the universe.

Schmidt was born on Dec. 28, 1929, in Groningen, Netherlands. He studied the sciences at the University of Groningen and received a B.S. degree in 1949. He also did graduate work at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.


Schmidt received his Ph.D. degree from the University of Leiden in 1956. He then accepted a Carnegie fellowship at the California Institute of Technology, also known as Caltech, in Pasadena. He did astronomical research at the Mount Wilson Observatory, which at the time was operated in part by Caltech. The fellowship ended in 1958, and Schmidt went back to the Netherlands. In 1959, he returned to Caltech as associate professor of astronomy. He was promoted to full professor in 1964 and retired as professor emeritus in 1996.

In the early 1960's, Schmidt took photographs of objects in the sky as seen through a powerful telescope. In 1963, he identified quasars. Schmidt showed that the spectra (bands of energy and light) of quasars have huge redshifts, indicating that the spectra are produced by powerful sources of energy in distant galaxies. Since 1963, more than a thousand quasars have been discovered. Schmidt received the Rumford Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1968.