Deaths Elsewhere

Deaths Elsewhere

September 02, 2004

Fred Lawrence Whipple, 97, the last surviving giant of 20th-century astronomy and the man who answered the age-old question, "What is a comet?" died Monday at a hospital in Cambridge, Mass.

Before Dr. Whipple began his research, comets were mysterious objects whose origin and composition were unknown. Most people thought that they were piles of sand and rock held together by gravity.

He postulated, correctly, that comets were simply large masses of ice and rock. He called them "icy conglomerates," but the term "dirty snowball" soon captured the public's imagination.

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