Fritz Zwicky

Fritz Zwicky (* February 14, 1898 in Varna, Bulgaria; † February 8, 1974 in Pasadena, California ) was a Swiss physicist and astronomer ( Caltech ) worked mainly at the California Institute of Technology.


Zwicky was the son of a firm operating in Bulgaria Swiss cotton trader. At age six, he was sent to his grandparents for the purpose of enrollment to Glarus. Later he passed the Matura in Zurich with top marks. Between 1917 and 1925 he studied at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich mathematics and experimental physics and his doctorate there with the theme The tensile strength of rock salt single crystals at different temperatures.

Equipped with a Rockefeller Fellowship, he emigrated in 1925 to Pasadena, to continue his studies at Caltech. Later he held there as an assistant professor lectures in atomic physics.

He designed a number of cosmological theories that made ​​essential contributions to the current understanding of the universe. In 1942 he was appointed professor of astronomy. In addition, he worked 1943-1961 as a consultant to the Aerojet Engineering Corporation and tested a variety of fuels and materials to advance the missile technology for space travel. From 1948 he was also a member of the Mount Wilson Observatory and the Observatory on Mount Palomar.

On October 16, 1957 and twelve days after the launch of the first Russian satellite Sputnik, which later fell back to Earth, Zwicky shot of Alamogordo from the first object into space, who did not return to Earth: A metal spheres of about one centimeter in diameter had been promoted with an Aerobee rocket to an altitude of about 85 kilometers, where a directed explosive charge accelerated the beads to a speed of about 15 km per second. The object given the name Artifical Planet no. Zero.

In 1932 he married Dorothy Vernon Gates, who came from a famous Californian family. This marriage ended in divorce nine years later by mutual agreement. In 1947 he married in Switzerland with Anna wraparound Zurich. From this second marriage three daughters were born.

Fritz Zwicky died at 76 in Pasadena and was buried in his home town of Mollis.

He loved the mountains and was in his spare time, an enthusiastic and ambitious climbers. According to his fellow man, he should have been difficult to deal with. He advocated the construction of the U.S. atomic bomb, in order to forestall the German Reich, but condemned their use against Japan. Friedrich Dürrenmatt was fascinated by Zwicky, and he served as a model for the figure Möbius in the tragicomedy The physicist.


Zwicky delivered as a pioneer of new astronomical ideas important insights into extragalactic stellar systems. So he discovered the compact galaxies, presented in 1938 as first hypothesized supernova explosions are the result of a gravitational collapse, and founded for this purpose together with Walter Baade the theory that supernovae could produce neutron stars. Furthermore, he turned in 1933 as the first virial theorem to clusters of galaxies and concluded as to the existence of dark matter. In the same year he presented his first deliberations to the appearance of galaxies as gravitational lenses after Einstein thought in this effect only in stars and thus be too small it had to be observable considered. Zwicky discovered a total of 123 supernovae, more than any other single astronomer so far. In him also proven to be true prediction goes back, the Crab Nebula is the remnant of the supernova observed by Chinese astronomers of 1054. Zwicky suggested to use supernovae as standard candles for distance measurement. At the realization of this idea is increasingly working since the beginning of the 21st century. Fritz Zwicky also proposed to explain the redshift of the galaxies as a fatigue phenomenon of light. His model was later totally discarded in favor of a declaration by the cosmological expansion.

In addition, he presented the Catalogue of Galaxies and of Clusters of Galaxies ( CGCG ) together.

Zwicky in 1972 awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society.

In addition to his astronomical activities he dealt with the methodology to develop ideas into tangible products (see Morphological analysis).

An asteroid and a lunar crater named after Fritz Zwicky.


  • Fritz Zwicky: Morphological research. Nature and change of material and spiritual structural contexts. Baeschlin, Glarus, 1989, ISBN 3-85546-038-8, (series of Fritz Zwicky Foundation - Volume 4 ).
  • Fritz Zwicky: Everyone is a genius. The famous astrophysicist revolutionized our " method of thinking ." Baeschlin, Glarus 1992, ISBN 3-85546-058-2, (series of Fritz Zwicky Foundation Volume 6 ).
  • Fritz Zwicky: Morphological Astronomy. Springer -Verlag, Berlin, Göttingen, Heidelberg 1957.
  • Fritz Zwicky: Morphological research. Winterthur AG, Winterthur, 1959, Neuaufl. Baeschlin, Glarus, 1989, ISBN 3-85546-038-8, (series of Fritz Zwicky Foundation Volume 4 ).
  • Fritz Zwicky: Morphology of Propulsive Power. Society for Morphology, Pasadena CA 1962 ( Monographs on morphological research 1 ).
  • Fritz Zwicky: discovering, inventing, researching in the morphological picture of the world. Droemer / Knaur, Munich, Zurich, 1966