Astrophysics Pioneer John Bahcall Dies
Dr. John N. Bahcall, an astrophysicist who made fundamental and lasting contributions to an astonishing number of different areas of modern astrophysics, died August 17 from a rare blood disorder at the age of 70.
The NASA community knows him best as one of the leaders who helped create the Hubble Space Telescope, which he continued to lobby for until his death.
“John Bahcall was one of the founding fathers of the Hubble Space Telescope. Without his tireless advocacy for the mission in the 1970’s, Hubble likely would not have come into being,” said senior HST scientist Dave Leckrone of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “His passion for Hubble science continued unabated for more than three decades. We will all miss him.”
Bahcall was a theoretical astrophysicist with expertise in the study of solar neutrinos, models of the Galaxy, dark matter, atomic and nuclear physics applied to astronomical systems, stellar evolution, and quasar emission and absorption lines. He was educated at Louisiana State University and the University of California at Berkeley, and earned a Ph.D. from Harvard.
Bahcall was recognized numerous times for his career achievements. Early on he was awarded a Sloan Foundation Fellowship, 1968-71. The American Physical Society named Bahcall the first Hans Bethe Prize recipient in 1998. In 1998, he also was honored with the Presidential Medal of Science in recognition of his theoretical work on solar neutrinos and for his role in the development of the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA also recognized his achievements, awarding him the 1992 Distinguished Public Service Medal for his observations and leadership with Hubble.
National awards include the Warner (1970), and Russell (1999) Prizes from the American Astronomical Society and the Heineman Prize for Astrophysics (1994) jointly from the American Astronomical Society and the American Institute of Physics.
Internationally, he was recognized by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Medal College de France, and the University of Helsinki. He held Honorary Doctorates from the Universities of Pennsylvania, Chicago, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
Bahcall was the author or co-author of four books, most recently Solar Neutrinos: The First Thirty Years, Addison-Wesley (1995) and Unsolved Problems in Astrophysics, Princeton University Press (1997). He also published nearly 500 papers on a variety of topics in astrophysics.
Bahcall served as President of the American Astronomical Society from 1990 –1992, and chaired the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council panel that produced the decadal study, which set the direction for astronomy and astrophysics research in the U.S. in the 1990s.
Bahcall was born December 30, 1934 in Shreveport, Louisiana. He is survived by his wife Dr. Neta Bahcall, their three children, and a brother.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center