Prof. Ludwig Biermann
Copyright: MPA, Photo courtesy R. Kippenhahn
Copy of Ludwig Biermann's school-leaving certificate ("Zeugnis der Reife")
Copyright: Gymnasium Hammonense, Hamm
Biermann’s research on the physics of the solar atmosphere in
the early 1950s made him realise — together with comet
observations — that the Sun emits a steady particle flow. Some
ten years later, in October 1962, this theoretical ”solar
wind“ could finally be measured by the space craft Mariner 2.
The research on magneto-hydrodynamics and the study of how ionised
gases move in interplanetary space led to the founding of two new
institutes in the early 1960s: the institute for Plasmaphysics and the
Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, respectively. The
astrophysics department at the Max-Planck-Institute for Physics itself
became an independent part of the institute in 1958 and moved to a new
building on the Garching campus in 1980. The free and open work
environment, which he created at his institute, continues to pervade
life and work there today.
The physics of comets, their origins and appearance in the inner solar
system continued to keep Biermann busy even after he officially
retired in 1975. His long and productive research career was widely
recognised: In addition to many other national and international
distinctions, in 1967 he received the Catherine-Wolfe-Bruce gold medal
of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and in 1974 the gold medal
of the Royal Astronomical Society London. The German Astronomical
Society has named a prize after him and awards the ”Ludwig
Biermann Research Prize“ annually to an exceptional young
scientist. Each year the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics invites
a world-class scientist to Garching for the Biermann Lectures.
The Gymnasium Hammonense, the school where he received his university
qualification in 1925, conceived of a special way to commemorate the
25th anniversary of Biermann’s death. Four 11th grade students
prepared a presentation about the astrophysicist in Latin, where they
covered also the solar wind (“ventus e sole eiectus”). The
following exercise is from Biermann’s final math exam:
An airplane is 3000 m above the Earth. How large is the circle
of the surface that an observer in the plane can see, if it is assumed
that the Earth is a perfect sphere with Radius r=6377 km and light
refraction is neglected?
Would you be able to answer this question without a computer?