Keith Pierce


Austin Keith Pierce (October 2, 1918 – March 11, 2005) was an American solar astronomer. Pierce played a key role in the development of the McMath–Pierce solar telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona.

Keith Pierce
Pierce in 1992
Austin Keith Pierce

(1918-10-02)October 2, 1918
DiedMarch 11, 2005(2005-03-11) (aged 86)
Alma mater
Mildred Buell
(m. 1941)
(m. 1979)
Scientific career
FieldsSolar astronomy
Thesis Photographic and Photo-electric Profile of the Fraunhofer Line Mg B Lambda 5184  (1948)
Doctoral advisorC. Donald Shane



Austin Keith Pierce was born October 2, 1918, in Tacoma, Washington. His father, Tracy Pierce, was a mathematician at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and an amateur astronomer.[1][2]

From 1936 to 1938, he studied at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, before transferring to the University of California, Berkeley where in 1940 he obtained a BSc in astronomy.[1][2] In 1941 he married Mildred Buell, with whom he went on to have three children.[1]

During the Second World War, Pierce worked on uranium isotope separation as part of the Manhattan Project, first at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory and then at Oak Ridge in Tennessee.[1][2]

In 1945 he returned to Berkeley, obtaining his doctorate in 1948 under C. Donald Shane.[1][2] He then worked at the University of Michigan for astronomer Robert McMath. McMath obtained federal funding for a large solar telescope and chose Pierce to lead the project.[3] Pierce gained observing experience at the Mount Wilson and McMath–Hulbert solar observatories and toured European solar observatories to inform the design of the new telescope.[3]

Kitt Peak Observatory was chosen for the site so in 1958 Pierce and his family relocated to Tucson, Arizona.[3] Upon completion in 1962 the McMath solar telescope was the largest solar telescope in the world.[4]

Pierce would direct the solar division of Kitt Peak for 16 years.[3] In 1979 he married medical anthropologist Trudy Griffin.[1] In 1992 the McMath telescope was rededicated as the McMath–Pierce Solar Telescope.[4][5]

Pierce died of cancer on March 11, 2005, in Tucson, Arizona.[5][6][7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Trudy Griffin-Pierce and Keith Pierce Papers, 1938-2009". Special Collections at the University of Arizona Libraries. University of Arizona. Archived from the original on August 1, 2023. Retrieved July 31, 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d Livingston, William Charles (December 1, 2006). "Obituary: A. Keith Pierce, 1918 - 2005". Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society. 38 (4): 1281–1282. Bibcode:2006BAAS...38.1281L. Archived from the original on August 1, 2023. Retrieved August 1, 2023 – via Astrophysics Data System.
  3. ^ a b c d William, Livingston; Harvey, John (July 2005). "Obituary: A. Keith Pierce 1918–2005". Solar Physics. 229 (2): 199–201. Bibcode:2005SoPh..229..199L. doi:10.1007/s11207-005-5374-y. ISSN 0038-0938. S2CID 117367803. Archived from the original on August 1, 2023. Retrieved August 1, 2023.
  4. ^ a b "Dr. A. Keith Pierce Passes Away" (Press release). Boulder, Colorado: National Solar Observatory. March 23, 2005.
  5. ^ a b Livingston, William; Harvey, John (September 1, 2005). "Austin Keith Pierce". Physics Today. 58 (9): 76. Bibcode:2005PhT....58i..76L. doi:10.1063/1.2117836. ISSN 0031-9228.
  6. ^ Revere, C. T. (March 12, 2005). "Scientist Pierce pinpointed Kitt Peak as astronomy site". Tucson Citizen. p. 4. Archived from the original on August 1, 2023. Retrieved August 1, 2023.
  7. ^ Minard, Anne (March 13, 2005). "Kitt Peak observatory founder, astrophysicist Pierce dies". Arizona Daily Star. p. 31. Archived from the original on August 1, 2023. Retrieved August 1, 2023.