Peter was born August 10, 1906 in Toronto, Ontario, the eldest of four boys.
His parents, Edith (Middleton) and Robert M. Millman, took him to
Japan at the age of two, when they became missionaries for the Anglican Church of Canada. He spent most of his youth in Japan, and was fluent in Japanese, an ability he retained throughout his life.
His lifelong interest in
mountain climbing started in Japan where his family encouraged deep interests in nature. The great earthquake of September 1, 1923, left a lasting impression of the immense power of natural forces on him. He became interested in astronomy as a secondary student at the Canadian Academy in Kobe. His first published paper of his observations of Mars while in Japan during 1924 was published two years later in the RASC Journal.
In 1925 Peter returned to Canada and enrolled at the University of Toronto where
he graduated in 1929 with a B.A., specializing in astronomy. His long association
with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (R.A.S.C.) began as a student, when he
joined the Toronto Centre in 1925. He received the Society's Gold Medal upon
graduation in 1929.
He considered himself fortunate to obtain summer employment from
1927 to 1929 at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria, not so much for the
salary, which barely covered his expenses, but for the opportunity
to learn the observational side of astronomy from astronomers like Dr Joseph A.
Pearce, whom he considered to be his mentor.
Graduate training in astronomy was not available in Canada in 1929 so he went to Harvard University. At the suggestion of the Director, Dr. Harlow Shapley, he undertook a systematic study of several spectra of meteors. Thus began his lifelong interest
in meteoric science and, although he became involved in all aspects of the field, meteor
spectroscopy always remained his special interest. In 1931 he received the A. M. degree
from Harvard, and a year later his Ph. D. for his pioneering study of meteor spectra.
He continued with post-doctoral studies as an Agassiz Scholar in 1932-33. During his years
at Harvard he formed lasting friendships with many other students who were later to rise
to positions of prominence in international astronomy. Of far greater importance to Peter,
however, was his marriage in 1931 to Margaret B. Gray, a nurse from Nova Scotia whom
he met during a brief stay in the Harvard Infirmary. In his later years Peter frequently remarked that he had been fortunate in many aspects of his scientific and personal life but by far his greatest good fortune was his choice of a lifelong companion.
The David Dunlap Observatory (D.D.O.) of the University of Toronto opened in 1935,
but, for several years prior to the opening, the senior staff members, Dr C.A. Chant and
Dr R.K. Young, were much occupied with planning the Observatory and supervision of
construction of the 74-inch reflector. It was natural that Dr Chant should seize the
opportunity to recruit his former student, Peter Millman, as a staff member in 1933,
to assist with preparations and to help with the teaching load in the Department of
Astronomy. During his seven active years at D. D. 0., Peter participated in the
Observatory's main programme of stellar radial velocities but he also began a systematic
programme of meteor observations, with emphasis on spectroscopy. His regular pages of
Meteor News first appeared in this JOURNAL in 1934. More than 120 issues eventually
appeared, covering all aspects of meteor astronomy throughout the world.
Dr Millman's career at the D.D.O. was interrupted early in 1941 when he enlisted in
the Royal Canadian Air Force. Initially he was one of numerous scientists teaching aerial
navigation to air crew trainees in Canada, followed by active duty in England as an
Operational Research Officer. In 1946 he retired with the rank of Squadron Leader and
resumed his scientific career with the Dominion Observatory in Ottawa.
While still in the Air Force, Dr. Millman organized a flight to observe the total solar
eclipse of July 9, 1945, flying in a Mitchell bomber over southern Saskatchewan.
The first of six airborne expeditions in which he participated.
PETER MILLMAN’S ARMY
In 1948 Millman's Army counting meteors at Radio Field Station, Metcalfe Road, Ottawa of the NRC. In back: Don McKinley (left) and Peter Millman (right).
Canadian professional and amateur astronomers had little contact until the late 1930s, when Millman established a meteor observation program at Toronto.
As Chief of the Stellar Physics Division at the Dominion Observatory, Millman had responsibility
for a small group of astronomers involved in solar physics, stellar spectroscopy and theoretical astrophysics in addition to his personal interest in
building a comprehensive programme of meteor research.
The meteor programme
quickly became a cooperative venture with the National Research Council. This effort
was an essential part of Canada's participation in the International Geophysical Year.
Combined meteor observations by radar, visual, photographic and spectroscopic techniques
proved very effective.
Another major project at the
same time was the creation of the Meanook and Newbrook Meteor Observatories in northern Alberta in 1951. Two of the specially designed Baker Super-Schmidt meteor cameras were installed
at the observatories in an effort to use meteors as a tool to compare upper atmosphere
densities in Alberta and New Mexico, where Harvard-Smithsonian astronomers operated
the other four Super-Schmidts.
The meteorite crater programme of the Dominion Observatory has received well
deserved acclaim. It may not be well known that Peter Millman had a decisive influence
on this programme, in addition to active participation in its early years. It was he who
brought Ralph B. Baldwin's book The Face of the Moon to the attention of C.S. Beals, the
Dominion Astronomer, and together they decided it should be possible to locate in
Canada some traces of the meteoritic bombardment that shaped the lunar surface.
Early in 1955 Millman transferred from the Observatory to the National Research
Council where McKinley was assuming a heavy administrative load and the future of the
Council's meteor programme was in doubt. As Head of
the Upper Atmosphere Research Section, Millman used the advent of increased
observational activity for the International Geophysical Year (I.G.Y.) to build the
Springhill Meteor Observatory south of the city, away from light pollution. This fine
installation secured first-rate meteor data for nearly three decades and was also an auroral
observatory during I.G.Y. and later years. Post-doctoral fellows from Czechoslovakia and
India added an international flavour to its activities as did Dr Millman's continuing
partnership with Dr A. F. Cook of the Harvard-Smithsonian Observatories. With the
advent of electronic observing techniques, particularly vidicon and orthicon instruments,
other partnerships developed with the Dudley Observatory in Albany, New York, and
with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Marshall Space Flight Center in
Peter Millman was intensely interested in all members of the solar system, large or
small. Meteor spectroscopy was confined to moderately large meteoroids because only
bright objects could be observed spectroscopically, but direct photography and
particularly radar observations extended the range to much smaller particles. Peter
became an expert on the size distribution of interplanetary matter over a huge range of
mass. He was personally involved in the recovery of three Canadian meteorites and spent
some time collecting specimens at the Barringer (Meteor) Crater in Arizona. The
revelations from space missions to the Moon, the inner solar system, the comet missions
in the mid 1980s and the Voyager missions to the outer planets always brought an
enthusiastic response from Peter.
Throughout his career, Peter Millman played an important role in scientific
organizations. He was a dedicated member of the R.A.S.C. for 65 years and served as
Librarian (1936-46), President of the Ottawa Centre (1945-50), National President
(1960-62), Honorary President (1981-85) and as a member or chairman of numerous
committees. He was also President of the Meteoritical Society (1962-66), President of
Commission 22 on Meteors and Meteorites of the International Astronomical Union
(I.A.U.) (1964-67) and Chairman of the I.A.U. Working Group for Planetary System
Nomenclature (1973-82). The task of selecting names for the features revealed by space
exploration of planets and satellites is a large one and Peter's diplomatic skills were well tested in steering the group through some ticklish international differences of opinion. He also served terms on the councils of the Royal Society of Canada, American
Astronomical Society, Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute, and for six years
(1966-72) on the Council of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. When the
Canadian Astronomical Society was formed, Peter served as its first Secretary from 197 1
-77. Among the national committees of which he was a member, special mention should
be made of the National Research Council (N. R. C.) Associate Committee on Meteorites
of which he was a member for a continuous 30 years, from its inception in 1960.
A distinguished scientific career brought its share of honours to Peter Millman. His
excellent academic record earned graduate fellowships for him at Harvard. A lifetime of
research on the solar system was recognized by the award of the J. Lawrence Smith
Medal of the U. S. National Academy of Sciences in 1954, by the dedication of I.A.U.
Symposium 90 "Solid Particles in the Solar System" in his honour (1979), by the Gold
Medal of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences (1980), and by the naming in 1984 of minor
planet 2904 as "Millman". He was particularly pleased with this last recognition and we
can expect to see the name Millman applied to some suitable lunar crater once the
mandatory three years have passed after the death of the person to be honoured. In 1986
Dr Millman was one of the first of a small number of retired N.R.C. scientists to be
granted the title of Researcher Emeritus.
Peter Millman was an excellent lecturer on scientific subjects with a rare ability to convey science to the public, an expertise he developed by writing a weekly newspaper column on astronomy for many years.
He enjoyed teaching children, whether it was the
senior Bible Class at his Church or in frequent visits to school classes. Peter was much
involved in activities at the Church. including an annual travel lecture that he presented to raise funds for its work. These events not only demonstrated his skill as a lecturer and a photographer, but Peter also used them to stress his belief in the need for greater
understanding among nations and cultures, a theme that developed naturally from his
youth in Japan.
The recreational activities of Peter Millman included support of both amateur and
professional music programmes, an extensive wildflower garden and a multitude of
collections. His intense love of nature was most
evident at his summer cottage, part of an extensive property acquired by Dr Millman's
parents in the Haliburton district of Ontario where each of the sons developed a family
Peter Mackenzie Millman died in an Ottawa hospital on December 11, 1990,
after a brief illness. He was a devoted husband, father and grandparent.
He is survived by his wife, Peggy, their two children, Barry and Cynthia (Floyd).
Peter was proud of the achievements of his children, both of whom hold academic positions at Canadian universities.
[BIBLIOGRAPHY OF PETER MILLMAN]