Andrew McKellar

(1910-60) DAO astronomer and Victoria Centre member.

ANDREW MCKELLAR (1910-60) graduated from the University of British Columbia at age 20 and three years later received his Ph.D. from the University of California. After post-doctoral work there and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he returned to BC and accepted a position at the DAO following Plaskett's retirement in 1935. Like his colleague, R.M. Petrie who joined the DAO permanent staff at the same time, McKellar did research for the Canadian Navy during World War II, attaining the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Both men were elected Fellows of the RSC when they were only in their thirties. They shared in the design of the DAO's 112 cm telescope (later named for McKellar) and both were keen golfers. McKellar's main research interest was in the study of molecules in comets, stars and in interstellar space. He was probably the first astronomer anywhere to estimate the temperature of the 3º cosmic background radiation, long before its significance was appreciated and 25 years before it was measured at radio wavelengths by Penzias and Wilson. His work on the ratio of carbon isotopes in cool stars had important implications for stellar evolution.

McKellar joined the RASC in 1935 and at once took an active part in the Society, speaking at meetings in Victoria and Vancouver and to clubs and service organizations. He served on the Victoria Centre Council almost continuously from 1936-52 including two years as President and two as Honorary President. He served the national Society as 1st Vice-President and President. En route to special meetings of the RASC in Montreal in 1960, he spoke to a number of Centres and delivered his retiring Presidential Address on April 8, 1960. Less than a month later he died in Victoria as a result of an illness he had courageously lived with for 15 years. His son, A.R.W. McKellar, is now an astronomer at NRC's Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics.

Peter Broughton (from Looking Up)

Further Reading

  • Obituary, JRASC (August 1960)
  • Obituary, PASP (December 1960)
  • The Scientific Papers of Andrew McKellar, JRASC (October 1960)
  • JRASC articles by Andrew McKellar
McKellar, Andrew