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The schaatsen of Jan Oort

Submitter: Jan Noordam
Description: Prof Oort was a giant of 20th century astronomy, and the founding father of Dutch radio astronomy (he also dabbled in comets). But whenever the canals froze over, he grabbed his schaatsen (skates) and left the Universe to fend for itself.

His enthousiasm was contagious, and many aspiring astronomers of all nationalities ventured out onto the ice after him. But while they dubiously tested the freshly formed surface, which made alarming creaking sounds, they knew that Oort had already skated on it the day before. He was a tough act to follow.

Oort's other sport was rowing. In 1918, he coxed the crew of Aegir (Groningen) to their first victory in the highly prestigious Varsity race. And every morning, if there was no ice, he did 20 km in his single sculls. He kept this up well into his eighties.

The picture shows the very traditional pair of skates that he skillfully used for many years. They can be admired in the Boerhave Museum for scientific instruments in Leiden. This is right and proper because skating is highly conducive to rumination, for instance about Life, the Universe and Everything. Therefore, his humble skates were definitely consistent with the ASTRON Mission Statement: They made discoveries happen.

Happy New Year, and let's hope for an (increasingly rare) bit of skating.

Copyright: Leidraad
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