Frederick C. Leonard

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Frederick C. Leonard
Portrait of Dr. Leonard
Dr. Frederick C. Leonard in 1947
Born(1896-03-12)March 12, 1896
DiedJune 23, 1960(1960-06-23) (aged 64)
Los Angeles, CA
ResidenceChicago, Los Angeles
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma materUniversity of Chicago, University of California at Berkeley
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of California at Los Angeles

Frederick Charles Leonard (March 12, 1896 – June 23, 1960)[1] was an American astronomer. As a faculty member at the University of California, Los Angeles, he conducted extensive research on double stars and meteorites, largely shaping the university's Department of Astronomy, he received his undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago in 1918 and his PhD in astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley in 1921. Leonard was an astronomer from his teenage years, founding the Society for Practical Astronomy in 1909.[2] In 1933 he founded The Society for Research on Meteorites, which later became known as the Meteoritical Society, he was its first president and was the Editor of the Society's journal for the next 25 years.[3] The Society instituted the Leonard Medal in 1962, its premier award for outstanding contributions to the science of meteoritics and closely allied fields.[4]

Early life[edit]

Leonard was born in Mount Vernon, Indiana in 1896 and moved with his family to Chicago in about 1900, eventually settling near the University of Chicago.[5] From the age of eight, he showed great interest in the stars and by early adolescence had become an active amateur astronomer. In 1909 he attended the annual meeting of the Astronomical and Astrophysical Society of America, held at the Yerkes Observatory; the same year, he organized the Society for Practical Astronomy (SPA),[6] a national amateur organization. Leonard's leadership raised concerns among professional astronomers[2] as not all were in favor of amateur contributions to the profession.[7][8] Nonetheless, the organization flourished until Leonard's departure in 1919.[9]

Leonard was a prolific writer and by the age of 14[10] had attracted the attention of numerous publishers,[11] he authored a year-long series of articles titled "Mr. Leonard's Star Colors" in the English Mechanic and World of Science.[11] A Chicago Tribune reporter characterized him as a "co-worker with such savants as Prof. F. R. Moulton"[11] and Francis P. Leavenworth.

After graduating from Hyde Park High School in Chicago, Leonard completed his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Chicago, he continued his graduate education at the University of California, Berkeley with Armin Leuschner, being awarded his PhD in 1922[12] for his thesis "An Investigation of the Spectra of Visual Double Stars".[13]


Leonard joined the University of California, Los Angeles faculty in 1922 as instructor of astronomy in the Department of Mathematics[14][15] and founded the Department of Astronomy in 1931[15] which he headed till his death in 1960.

Leonard initially focused his university research on double stars, which he studied using the facilities at Mount Wilson Observatory.[9] (The equipments for astronomy teaching was very poor at that time but he got access to telescopes on Mt.Wilson and continued to observe stars and planets for some years).[16]The University didn't obtain the research university mandate till after the World War II. Before shifting his focus to meteoritics he discovered at least 25 double stars,[5] his interest in meteorites started in the mid to late 1920s.[17] Leonard started corresponding with Harvey H. Nininger about meteorite purchases in 1930,[18] and from that point forward, the majority of Leonard's contributions to astronomy surrounded his study of meteorites with a special focus on their systematics and statistics.[9] In 1933 he founded The Society for Research on Meteorites, now known as the Meteoritical Society, with himself as president and Harvey H. Nininger as secretary,[19][20] he accumulated a large collection of meteorites, examining them as part of his studies to form a revised and simplified meteorite classification scheme. Although the scheme's validity is still a subject of some controversy, it remains one of Leonard's most well-known contributions.[9] Leonard translated his research into teaching material and offered the first class in Meteoritics at the university in 1937.[21]He did his best for the Meteoritical Society to flourish and managed a lot of difficulties during WWII and especially after the war period.[16]

Throughout Leonard's career, even during times of intense research, teaching remained his primary dedication.[9] Three of "Leonard’s prize pupils" became planetarium directors later in life,[22] he was honoured by "striking a medal in his name" after his death for the contribution he had made to the development of the Meteoritical Society[16]

Kuiper belt hypothesis[edit]

Leonard was one of the first astronomers to hypothesize the existence of a trans-Neptunian population.[23] In 1930, soon after Pluto's discovery by Clyde Tombaugh, Leonard pondered whether it was "not likely that in Pluto there has come to light the first of a series of ultra-Neptunian bodies, the remaining members of which still await discovery but which are destined eventually to be detected".[23]

Personal life[edit]

Leonard married Rhoda Walton in Victoria, B. C., Canada in 1942.[24] They had two sons – Roderick and Frederick.


Leonard suffered a stroke in May 1960 and died on June 23.[5]


  • (1935) - Bibliography of Meteorities: Second 1935 List
  • (1946) – A catalog of provisional numbers for the meteoritic falls of the world
  • (1956) – Catalogue of the Meteroritic Falls of the World


  1. ^ "California Death Records". The California Department of Health Services Office of Health Information and Research vital Statistics Section. 1960. Retrieved January 4, 2012.
  2. ^ a b Sponberg, Brant L. (1999). "History of the American Astronomical Society, Amateurs in the Early AAS". American Astronomical Society. Archived from the original on January 4, 2012.
  3. ^ Norton, O. Richard (August 1996). "Personal Recollections of Frederick C. Leonard". Pallasite Press. Archived from the original on January 4, 2012.
  4. ^ "Awards of the Meteoritical Society". The Meteoritical Society. 2002. Archived from the original on August 6, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c "Dr. F. C. Leonard, Astronomer, Dies". New York Times. June 24, 1960. p. 27.
  6. ^ Clarke, Roy S. (2000). "Frederick C. Leonard: Before He Knew Meteorites (Abstract)". Meteoritics & Planetary Science. 35 (5): A19–A180. Bibcode:2000M&PSA..35Q..42C. doi:10.1111/j.1945-5100.2000.tb01796.x.
  7. ^ DeVorkin, David H., 1944– (January 1, 1999). The American Astronomical Society's first century. Published for the American Astronomical Society through the American Institute of Physics (published 1999). ISBN 978-1-56396-683-5.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Rothenberg, Marc (August 1981). "Organization and Control: Professionals and Amateurs in American Astronomy, 1899–1918". Social Studies of Science. 11 (3): 305–325. doi:10.1177/030631278101100302. JSTOR 284644.
  9. ^ a b c d e California Digital Library, Frederick Charles Leonard, Astronomy: Los Angeles.
  10. ^ Leonard, Frederick C. (December 10, 1910). "Infinitude of the Universe". Christian Science Monitor. p. 19.
  11. ^ a b c Osborn, Stanley R. (July 9, 1911). "This School Boy Astronomer, Still in His Teens, Attracts Attention of Scientific Star Gazers". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. E1. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
  12. ^ University of California (System) Academic Senate; S. Herrick; G. E. F. Sherwood; D. M. Popper (April 1961). "Frederick Charles Leonard, Astronomy: Los Angeles". 1961, University of California: in Memoriam. Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  13. ^ Leonard, Frederick Charles (1921). "An Investigation of the Spectra of Visual Double Stars". Thesis: 68. Bibcode:1921PhDT.........1L.
  14. ^ Clarke, Roy S.; Plotkin, Howard (2002). "Frederick C. Leonard (1896 1960): First UCLA Astronomer and Founding Father of the Meteoritical Society". Meteoritics & Planetary Science. 37: A9–A156. Bibcode:2002M&PSA..37R..34C. doi:10.1111/j.1945-5100.2002.tb00912.x.
  15. ^ a b Stadtman, Verne A. (1967). "Astronomy". The Centennial Record of the University of California. Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  16. ^ a b c Clarke, R. S.; Plotkin, H. (2002). "Frederick C. Leonard (1896 1960): First UCLA Astronomer and Founding Father of the Meteoritical Society". Meteoritics and Planetary Science Supplement. 37: A34. Bibcode:2002M&PSA..37R..34C.
  17. ^ Nininger, Harvey Harlow (1972). Find a falling star. P. S. Eriksson. ISBN 978-0-8397-2229-8.
  18. ^ Plotkin, Howard; Clarke, Roy S. (2008). "Harvey Nininger's 1948 attempt to nationalize Meteor Crater". Meteoritics & Planetary Science. 43 (10): 1741–1756. Bibcode:2008M&PS...43.1741P. doi:10.1111/j.1945-5100.2008.tb00640.x.
  19. ^ Norton, O. Richard (1994). Rocks from space : meteorites and meteorite hunters (2nd ed.). Mountain Press Pub (published 1998). ISBN 978-0-87842-373-6.
  20. ^ Marvin, Ursula (1993). "The Meteoritical Society: 1933 to 1993". Meteoritics. 28 (3): 261–314. Bibcode:1993Metic..28..261M. doi:10.1111/j.1945-5100.1993.tb00268.x.
  21. ^ Norton, O. Richard (November 1996). "Personal Recollections of Frederick C. Leonard, Part II". Pallasite Press. Archived from the original on January 4, 2012.
  22. ^ Verish, Robert (November 2009). "O. Richard Norton (1937–2009)". Meteorite-Times Magazine. Meterorite Exchange, Inc. Archived from the original on January 8, 2012.
  23. ^ a b "What is improper about the term "Kuiper belt"? (or, Why name a thing after a man who didn't believe its existence?)". International Comet Quarterly. Retrieved October 24, 2010.
  24. ^ "Haupts Will Honor Pair". Los Angeles Times. July 31, 1942. p. A5.

Hockey, Thomas A; Bracher, Katherine (November 20, 2007), The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers, Springer (published 2007), ISBN 978-0-387-31022-0

Leonard, Frederick D. (March 1, 2018). "Frederick C. Leonard: A history and personal recollections". Meteoritics & Planetary Science. 53 (3): 359–374. doi:10.1111/maps.13015. ISSN 1945-5100.