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The Sciences

Frank Low, pioneer of IR astronomy, 1933 - 2009

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitJune 21, 2009 5:49 PM


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I just heard that Frank Low, one of the inventors of infrared astronomy, has passed away at the age of 75. I didn't know Dr. Low, but his bio is a what's what of early space-based IR astronomy. In the 1960s he helped invent astronomical IR detectors, testing them on radio telescopes and then on board aircraft. He was the first to discover that Jupiter and Saturn emit more energy than they receive from the Sun (we now understand that to be largely due to trapped heat from their formation). He was also a motivating force behind the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, or IRAS, which blew open the doors on space-based IR science, and paved the way for later telescopes like Spitzer and the newly launched Herschel. Low died just weeks after Herschel launched, in fact. I hope he was able to see that. Herschel promises to revolutionize far-infrared astronomy in the same way Spitzer has for near-IR, and in a few years the James Webb Space Telescope will do for IR what Hubble did for optical astronomy. Not too many people get to be remembered for all time as a pioneer in a new field of science. For that, we should all thank him.

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