Jean-Claude Pecker

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Jean-Claude Pecker
Jean-Claude Pecker in 1970
Born(1923-05-10)10 May 1923
Died20 February 2020(2020-02-20) (aged 96)
Île d'Yeu, France
EducationLycée Michel-de-Montaigne
Alma materÉcole normale supérieure
University of Bordeaux
University of Grenoble
Scientific career
FieldsTheoretical astrophysics
InstitutionsProfessor emeritus at the Collège de France, Paris

Jean-Claude Pecker (10 May 1923 – 20 February 2020)[1] was a French astronomer, astrophysicist and author, member of the French Academy of Sciences and director of the Nice Observatory. He served as the secretary-general of the International Astronomical Union from 1964 to 1967. Pecker was the President of the Société astronomique de France (SAF), the French amateur astronomical society, from 1973–1976.[2] He was awarded the Prix Jules Janssen by the French Astronomical Society in 1967. A minor planet (1629 Pecker) is named after him.[3] Pecker was a vocal opponent of astrology and pseudo-science[4][5] and was the president of the Association française pour l'information scientifique (AFIS), a skeptical organisation which promotes scientific enquiry in the face of quackery and obscurantism.

Early life[edit]

Jean-Claude Pecker was born 10 May 1923, in Reims, to Victor-Noël Pecker and Nelly Catherine née Hermann (a teacher of Philosophy and Literature), in the department of Marne, France.[6] The grandson of Joseph Hermann, rabbi of Valenciennes and later Reims, Pecker was born in his maternal grandparents' house, moving later to Bordeaux. In the summer of 1941 they moved to the Hermann house in Paris because of anti-Jewish restrictions placed on his parents during the Vichy regime.[7] In May 1944 both his parents were transported to Auschwitz where they died, while his grandmother, absent during the raid, was hidden by neighbour Ida Barrett who was later designated by the state of Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations for her actions to conceal the old lady until the liberation of Paris.[8] Pecker was interested in astronomy from a young age. He studied at the Lycée Michel de Montaigne de Bordeaux but was forced to go into hiding during the Second World War.[9] After the Liberation of France he attended the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. In October 1946 he joined the Institut d'astrophysique de Paris and studied for the agrégation of physics and chemistry,[10] where he studied under, and had his doctoral thesis judged by Nobel Prize winning physicist Alfred Kastler. He earned his doctorate in May 1950.[11] At the Institut d’Astrophysique he got to know and shared an office with Évry Schatzman with whom he collaborated for many years.[10]

Professional career[edit]

From 1952 to 1955 Pecker was associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Clermont-Ferrand. From early in his career he held many international appointments including fellow of the High Altitude Observatory in Colorado, USA.[10][12] In 1955 he became astronomer for the Paris Observatory followed by director of the Nice Observatory in 1961. In 1963 Pecker became professor of theoretical astrophysics at the Collège de France in Paris, a position he held until 1988 when he became honorary professor. He was also director of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) Institute of Astrophysics from 1972–1978.[13] His main fields of work within astrophysics were solar and stellar atmospheres and sun-earth interactions. He was also known for questioning the standard big bang theory, positing "alternative but partial solutions" (a quasi-static model)[5] and was signatory, with 33 other scientists, to an open letter to the scientific community expressing concern over the dominance of the big bang and expansion of the Universe theories. They complained that the tired light theory in particular was generally discounted or ignored by most cosmologists at the time of writing.[12]

Positions held[edit]

In the 1950s Pecker spent a year as associate fellow of the High Altitude Observatory at Boulder, Colorado.[12] Pecker was also associate member of the Royal Society of Science (Liege), associate of the Royal Astronomical Society, member of the National Academy of Bordeaux, the Royal Academies for Science and the Arts of Belgium, the European Academy of Sciences and Arts[6] and honorary associate of Rationalist International,[15] member of the Academia Europaea and sat on the international advisory board of the Institute for Science and Human Values. Pecker was also a member of the International Astronomical Union (IAU).[16]


Pecker has written and co-written many books and over 700 academic papers on subjects such as cosmology, astronomy, astrophysics, human rights, pseudo-science, poetry and art. He has also presented paintings at exhibitions in France.[17] He also wrote popular science articles and books for the general public, some of which have been translated into other languages. His books include:

  • The Sky (1959)
  • Astrophysique Générale (with Évry Schatzman, 1959)
  • The Orion Book of the Sky (Translated by William D. O'Gorman) (1960)
  • Contribution to the spectral type theory: iv Formation of lines in stellar spectra (1963)
  • Experimental Astronomy (translated by Robert Kandel) (1970)
  • Space Observatories (Astrophysics and Space Science Library) (1970)
  • Papa, dis-moi, qu'est-ce que c'est que l'Astronomie (1971) Book republished in January 2022 by Z4 Éditions.[18]
  • Stellar Paths: Photographic Astrometry with Long-Focus Instruments (1981)
  • Clefs pour l'Astronomie (1981)
  • Understanding the Universe: the impact of space astronomy (ed. West) (1983)
  • Sous l'Étoile Soleil (1984)
  • Astronomie Flammartion (1986)
  • Building a world community: Humanism in the 21st century (ed. Paul Kurtz) (1989)
  • The Future of the Sun (translated Maurice Robine) (1990)
  • Pour comprendre l'Univers (w.Delsemme & Reeves 1988)
  • L'avenir du Soleil (1990)
  • Le Promeneur du Soleil (1992)
  • Le Soleil est une étoile (1992)
  • The Mars Effect (with Claude Benski) (1996)
  • Understanding the Heavens: 30 centuries of astronomical ideas from ancient thinking to modern cosmology (English edition 2001)
  • La photographie astronomique (2004)
  • Current issues in cosmology (Cambridge University Press, 2006)[19]

Foreword of scientific literature[edit]

  • Pierre Bayart, La méridienne de France : et l'aventure de sa prolongation jusqu'aux Baléares, Paris, L'Harmattan, coll. « Acteurs de la science », 2007, 250 p. (ISBN 978-2-296-03874-5)
  • Serge Rochain, Histoire de la mesure des distances cosmiques : de Hipparque à Hubble, Londres, ISTE éditions, coll. « Histoire des sciences et des techniques », 2016, 222 p. (ISBN 978-1-78405-201-0)
  • Arkan Simaan, La science au péril de sa vie : Les aventuriers de la mesure du monde, Paris, Adapt/Vuibert, coll. « Histoire des sciences », 2001, 206 p. (ISBN 2-909680-41-X)
  • Arkan Simaan, L’Image du monde de Newton à Einstein, Paris, Adapt/Vuibert, coll. « Histoire des sciences », 2005, 152 p. (ISBN 2-909680-67-3)


Pecker was vice-president of the French UNESCO committee in 1990, afterwards becoming a French permanent representative to UNESCO on behalf of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), an organisation which reflected his humanist approach to his life's work. Pecker spoke out against the governments punitive immigration laws, publicly supporting the National Coordination of Sans Papiers (CNSP) organisation.[20] He was awarded the International Humanist Award for services to Humanism from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) in 2005 and acted as a permanent representative to UNESCO on behalf of the IHEU.[13] Pecker was also a laureate of the International Academy of Humanism.[21]

Personal life[edit]

Pecker married Charlotte Wimel in 1947 with whom he had three children: Martine Kemeny, Daniel and Laure. They divorced in 1964. In 1974 he married Anne-Marie Vormser who died in 2002. In addition to his scientific disciplines Pecker also wrote poetry and created works of art.[citation needed] When asked what astrophysics is for he replied,

Nothing, fortunately!..Astrophysics brings no financial reward, but nowadays the only reward that counts is economic! Astrophysics is used to understand the Universe. It is essentially an intellectual discipline, for the pleasure of understanding, the pleasure of knowing, for the accumulation of knowledge. Astrophysics is for creating happiness.[11]


Pecker also has a minor planet (1629) named in his honour, discovered by L. Boyer.[3]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Disparition de Jean-Claude Pecker astrophysicien et professeur émérite au Collège de France" (in French). Collège de France. Retrieved 21 February 2020.
  2. ^ List of presidents of the Société astronomique de France
  3. ^ a b Schmadel, Lutz D. (2007). "(1629) Pecker". Dictionary of minor planet names. p. 129. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-29925-7_1630. ISBN 978-3-540-00238-3.
  4. ^ "Thèse d'Élizabeth Teissier : réactions dans les médias". Science and Pseudo-science. ASIS. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  5. ^ a b "Les Membres". Bureau des Longitudes. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d e Sleeman, Elizabeth, ed. (2004). The International Who's Who (67th ed.). London and New York: Europa. p. 1300. ISBN 978-1857432176. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  7. ^ "Barret Ida". Comité Français pour Yad Vashem. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  8. ^ "Barret, Ida (English version)". Yad Vashem. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  9. ^ Schatzman, Evry. "Hommage à Jean-Claude Pecker" (PDF). ACCES. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  10. ^ a b c Weart, Spencer (9 April 2015). "Oral Histories Evry Schatzman". American Institute of Physics. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  11. ^ a b c Pecker, Jean-Claude (31 December 2008). "Petite et grande histoire d'astrophysique". La Revue Pour l'Histoire du CNRS (23). doi:10.4000/histoire-cnrs.8623. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  12. ^ a b c d "Professeurs honoraires". College de France. Archived from the original on 23 November 2011. Retrieved 30 March 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  13. ^ a b c "Jean-Claude Pecker" (PDF). l'Académie des sciences. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  14. ^ "The eleventh world congress speakers". Center for Inquiry. Archived from the original on 1 April 2017. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  15. ^ "Prof. Jean-Claude Pecker (France)". Rationalists International. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  16. ^ "Individual members". IAU. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  17. ^ "Bibliographie". College de France. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Pecker, Jean-Claude". IdRef. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  20. ^ Nicholls, W.J. (November 2011). "Fragmenting citizenship: dynamics of cooperation and conflict in France's immigrant rights movement" (PDF). Ethnic and Racial Studies. 36 (2011): 611–631. doi:10.1080/01419870.2011.626055. S2CID 117910720.
  21. ^ "International Academy of Humanism". Council for Secular Humanism. Center for Inquiry. Archived from the original on 30 March 2018. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  22. ^ "Informations générales" (PDF). Société Française de Physique. Retrieved 28 March 2017.