US astronomer who
specialized in spectroscopic research into irregular variable stars,
notably those of the T Tauri group. He also worked on binary stars.
Herbig was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, and educated at the University
of California. In 1944, he became a member of the staff at the Lick
Observatory, California, rising to professor 1966.
Herbig's main area of research was the nebular variables of which the
prototype is T Tauri. It is believed that the members of this group
are in an early stage of stellar evolution. Most of them are red and
fluctuate in light intensity. In 1960, Herbig drew attention to the
fact that many of them have a predominance of lithium lines, similar
to the abundance of this element on Earth and in meteorites, and concluded
that this might represent the original level of lithium in the Milky
Way. In the Sun and other stars, lithium may have largely been lost
through nuclear transformation.
Herbig has also investigated the spectra of atoms and molecules that
originate in interstellar space.