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In memoriam: Frank Lowe

23 June 2009

Frank J. Low, who helped astronomers extend their vision beyond visible light into a vast realm of previously invisible colors, revolutionizing the study of the birth of planets, stars and galaxies, died on June 11 in Tucson. He was 75.

Using Dr. Low's devices and their successors, astronomers have been able to peer through dust clouds to find the birthplaces of stars; discover galaxies and quasars invisible to ordinary telescopes; discern rings of dust and, recently, even planets around other stars; and study what is believed to be residual heat left over from the Big Bang.

Previously, to keep infrared telescopes from being swamped by their own heat, the telescopes were encased in a giant thermos bottle and cooled to nearly absolute zero by liquid helium. Dr. Low proposed leaving the telescope out in the open and letting it radiate its heat to space naturally. Only the detectors at the focal plane of the telescope needed to be cooled with liquid helium. His design saved the project and opened up a new way to build space telescopes, including the coming James Webb Space Telescope.

Low participated in several SPIE meetings over the last two decades, most recently the 2006 Astronomical Telescopes symposium, where he was coauthor of a paper entitled "A visible/infra-red low noise fast readout wavefront sensor for all-sky adaptive optics."

Full obituary from New York Times.