Carl Bauer

Carl August Bauer

Friday, November 10th, 1916 - Monday, August 12th, 2019
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The astronomer, Carl August Bauer, 102.751 yrs old, of State College, died August 12 at his daughter’s home. He was born on November 10, 1916 on a farm in Kansas. He was the son of Frederick and Victoria (Lehmann) Bauer. He spent his boyhood in Wichita, Kansas. In 1941 he married Grace Marie Brunsvold. Carl and Grace had three daughters, Cynthia, Millicent, and Deborah. Carl was predeceased by his daughter Millicent in 1976, and his wife in 1980. Carl had three sisters – Frances, Elsie, and Irene – and two brothers – Ernest and Harold – all of whom preceded him in death. His brother Harold was a radio operator on the U.S. Arizona and was killed at Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Carl is survived by his daughter Cynthia Bauer-Levy and her husband Robert Levy, his daughter Deborah Gabriel and her husband John Gabriel, his grandchildren Ona Gabriel Feinberg and Alexandra Gabriel. Ona and her husband Gregory Feinberg have three children, Lilian, Henry, and Evan. In recent years, he has lost most of his relatives, friends, and associates, but has filled this gap with many new and kind friends.

Carl graduated from Wichita High school East in 1935. After working for the American Optical Company for over a year, he attended the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and received a BA in 1941. Then he entered the University of Chicago and did his graduate studies and research at the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, where he received a master’s degree in astronomy in 1944. Next he taught physics, astronomy, and mathematics at North Dakota State University in Fargo, North Dakota, and at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. In 1945 he entered Harvard University in the Astronomy Department and received a doctorate in 1949. Following studies at Harvard, he taught astronomy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. After leaving Michigan, he taught navigation at Harvard and then in 1951 he joined the Physics Department at Penn State. He was the first professionally trained astronomer at Penn State, where he organized the first undergraduate program in astronomy. In the following years, he was pleased to see the program develop into a separate department, with a first-rate research program in astronomy.

He observed extensively with the world’s largest refracting telescope, the 40” telescope at Yerkes Observatory, and with the 82” reflecting telescope at the McDonald Observatory on Mt. Locke in western Texas. Most of this work involved the spectroscopic study of stars, especially the stars 13 Ceti and W Serpendis, both of which are peculiar spectroscopic binary stars. At Harvard he specialized in the study of meteorites and comets.

Carl’s most important scientific contribution was his discovery that most of the helium in meteorites was produced by the action of cosmic radiation during the eons when they were in space orbiting the sun. The discovery led to a complete revision of the assigned ages and past history of meteorites and asteroids. Previously it was believed that the helium in meteorites was formed by the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium.

In 1959 and 1960 Carl measured the amount of helium -3 and helium -4 in 43 metallic meteorites and interpreted the results. In this work he used the mass spectrometer of the renowned physicist, Dr. A. O. Nier, at the University of Minnesota. As an undergraduate at that university, Carl was a student in atomic physics taught by Dr. Nier.

Carl was a member of the America Astronomical Society, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a member of the International Astronomical Union, a fellow of the Meteoritical Society, and a member of the scientific organization Sigma Xi. He was listed in American Men of Science, Who’s Who in the Midwest, and Leaders in Education.

Carl enjoyed gardening, storytelling, poetry, woodworking, mathematics, and science. As Carl said, he “wasn’t the smartest, but he was persistent, lucky, and happy.”

A Celebration of Life will be held on Saturday, August 17, 2019, from 2-4pm, at the home of his daughter, Deborah Gabriel. Burial will be private at the convenience of the family. Arrangements are under the direction of Wetzler Funeral Service, Inc. in Bellefonte.

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Service Details

  • Interment

    Private at the convenience of the family
    206 N. Spring Street
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A Celebration of Life will be held at the home of his daughter, Deborah, on Saturday, August 17, 2019, from 2-4pm.


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