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Explore Alliance - Bart J. Bok

Bart J. Bok
1906 - 1983
Steward Observatory


Bart Bok, a luminary in the realm of astronomy, unfolded the mysteries of the Milky Way with a passion that ignited the cosmos. Born on April 28, 1906, Bok's celestial journey traversed continents, leaving an indelible mark on the understanding of our galactic home.

In 1929, Bok and fellow astronomer Priscilla Fairfield embarked on a shared odyssey, intertwining their destinies and scientific pursuits. The union transcended the personal, evolving into a professional symbiosis so profound that even the discerning gaze of the Royal Astronomical Society struggled to disentangle their cosmic achievements. Together, they became the charismatic "salesmen of the Milky Way," bringing the marvels of the universe to the public through their co-authored masterpiece, "The Milky Way."

Bok's scholarly gaze pierced the heart of galactic structure. In the 1940s, his keen observations birthed the discovery of Bok globules—ethereal clouds of cosmic dust, silhouetted against the brilliance of celestial backdrops, hinting at the cosmic ballet of star formation.

The astronomer's influence expanded beyond borders. Establishing observatories in Mexico and South Africa, Bok propelled the global pursuit of astronomical knowledge. His visionary leadership as Director at Mount Stromlo Observatory in Australia (1957–1966) elevated optical astronomy, casting light on the cosmos and kindling a passion for science through media outreach.

Returning to the United States in 1966, Bok's devotion to astronomy found a new focal point at the University of Arizona. A catalyst for growth, he nurtured the next generation of astronomers, shaping the trajectory of the field. Actively engaged in national and global astronomical organizations, Bok stood as a staunch advocate for the purity of science, vehemently opposing the murky realms of astrology.

David H. Levy, a close friend and Bok’s biographer, expressed, "Bart Bok always delighted in discussing the grand panorama of astronomy, and throughout his dedicated lifetime exploring the mysteries of the Milky Way, he witnessed the evolution of that cosmic tableau." Conducting over fifty interviews with Bok in the two years preceding his passing, Levy initially encountered resistance to the biography project, but eventually secured Bok's enthusiastic cooperation. The resulting book “The Man Who Sold the Milky Way: A Biography of Bart Bok” not only unveils the factors that set Bok apart as an extraordinary scientist but also offers a glimpse into the experiences of astronomers during an era marked by substantial advancements in the field.

In his later years, Bok continued his astronomical pursuits at the University of Arizona, where he served as a professor emeritus. He met his cosmic end on August 5, 1983 while at his desk in Tucson, Arizona, leaving a legacy that endures today. His contributions, honored through celestial features and awards inspired astronomers, educators, and the curious minds to increase scientific literacy. 


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