American astronomer Jerry Nelson, who created advanced telescopes that helped humans better scour the universe, has died at his California home.
The 73-year-old professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, died last June 10.
There was no cause of death provided in the university’s statement, the Associated Press reported.
Groundbreaking Telescope Design
Nelson’s telescope design harnessed dozens of segmented mirrors instead of a large one, and it served as the basis for the twin 10-meter telescopes at the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii.
Those telescopes, being the largest currently being used, have assisted scientists in various important scientific pursuits, such as measuring the black hole at the center of the Milky Way and finding rocky bodies outside the solar system.
Since it was born, Nelson’s concept has been used for other huge ground-based telescopes in the world. The James Webb telescope, currently under construction and to be positioned in space, also boasts of a segmented design in its primary mirror.
His contribution to the growth of adaptive optics technology is also notable. The technology sharpens images obtained from ground-based telescopes through correcting for the blurring effect of the planet’s atmosphere.
Claire Max, UC Observatories director, dubbed Nelson’s contributions to astronomy “legendary.”
“We will all benefit from his legacy for many years to come,” Max said.
Still partly disabled from a 2011 stroke, the astronomer worked on the Thirty Meter Telescope, which aspires to erect the Northern Hemisphere’s biggest telescope to date.
Nelson was born near Los Angeles and earned an undergraduate degree from the California Institute of Technology as well as a doctoral degree in physics at UC Berkeley. He taught there for many years before he moved to Santa Cruz and also served for over a decade at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
He left behind a wife, two children from a previous marriage, three grandchildren, and a sister.
World’s Telescopes In Focus
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope helped discover seven Earth-sized planets, called the TRAPPIST-1 system, orbiting a star around 40 light-years away. Now, the James Webb Space Telescope may help reveal the potential presence of life on these planets.
The large infrared telescope will feature a 21.3-foot primary mirror, and it will be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from the French Guiana in October 2018. It will serve as the premier observatory for probing luminous glows after the Big Bang, the solar system’s evolution, and the star system’s formation that can buoy life on Earth-like planets.
Earlier this month, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that it will put 26 telescopes on a satellite to hunt for Earth-like worlds.
The Kepler Space Telescope, on the other hand, has its work done at least for now. It recently wrapped up its planetary probe and identified 4,034 potential exoplanets, 2,335 of which had been confirmed as exoplanets and 50 designated as potentially life-supporting worlds.
Data from Kepler too assigned planets in this galaxy into two distinct buckets: rocky planets that are up to 1.75 times Earth’s size, and gaseous Neptune-like planets from 2 to 3.5 times the size of Earth. Neptune is about 4 times Earth’s size.