Stuart Bowyer, Astronomer Who Lent His Ear to the Cosmos, Dies at 86

Stuart Bowyer, Astronomer Who Lent His Ear to the Cosmos, Dies at 86

This obituary is a part of a sequence about individuals who have died within the coronavirus pandemic. Examine others right here.

Solely the most popular stars shine with the searing however invisible blue-beyond-blue gentle referred to as ultraviolet. When Stuart Bowyer arrived as a rangy and voluble younger professor on the College of California, Berkeley, in 1968, no telescopes might see these stars of their glory.

Nor did astronomers, or the remainder of humanity, know whether or not anyone else was Out There — whether or not the airwaves is likely to be stuffed with alien beeps and crackles from cosmic ham radio operators making an attempt to say “Hello” or to warn with a “Be careful” about these nukes and that rising carbon dioxide.

Dr. Bowyer devoted his profession to closing the cognitive hole on each counts.

At Berkeley, he led groups that despatched devices into house on balloons, sounding rockets, the house shuttle and at last his personal satellite tv for pc to disclose greater than a thousand stars, galaxies and raging fuel clouds illuminating the cosmos in a brand new colour.

On the bottom, he additionally pioneered the seek for indicators from extraterrestrial civilizations, in the event that they have been there, constructing Berkeley right into a world heart within the seek for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI.

Dr. Bowyer died on Sept. 23 at his house in Orinda, Calif. He was 86. The college mentioned the trigger was problems of Covid-19.

His former colleagues described Dr. Bowyer as greater than life, each in measurement and in spirit, a brash man you both cherished or hated. “He put his complete physique and soul into issues,” mentioned Dan Werthimer, the Marilyn and Watson Alberts chair and chief scientist on the Berkeley SETI Analysis Middle.

Dr. Werthimer recalled that Dr. Bowyer and his spouse, Jane Baker Bowyer, an schooling professor at close by Mills School, had cultivated a Japanese backyard of their yard, “probably the most serene place you could possibly think about,” and likewise attended Burning Man.

Dr. Bowyer made his largest mark along with his ultraviolet research of the universe.

Ultraviolet rays, with wavelengths shorter than seen gentle and longer than X-rays, are usually not solely invisible to the attention; the extra excessive short-wavelength form are troublesome to focus with typical optics. However many necessary astrophysical and atomic processes involving hydrogen, probably the most plentiful ingredient within the universe and in stars, give off ultraviolet gentle.

Dr. Bowyer’s effort to increase astronomy into the lacking ultraviolet zone was resisted at first. The ambiance absorbs ultraviolet rays earlier than they hit the bottom, stopping people from seeing the most popular stars and blazing plasmas. A view from house was required, Dr. Bowyer argued, however many astronomers thought there would nonetheless be nothing to see. The skinny fuel that pervades interstellar house would take up all of the ultraviolet gentle, they mentioned.

However Dr. Bowyer persevered, and he proved they have been improper. A sensor that he and his group mounted on the Apollo-Soyuz, a joint U.S.-Soviet mission in 1975, detected excessive ultraviolet radiation from some useless stars often called sizzling white dwarfs and an exploding star referred to as a nova.

Dr. Bowyer adopted up by proposing a complete satellite tv for pc dedicated to this work, the Excessive Ultraviolet Explorer, or EUVE, in 1977. It was lastly launched in 1992 and circled Earth for eight years. It charted some 1,200 cosmic sources of this excessive radiation from as distant as distant galaxies, the place it tagged huge, beforehand unsuspected clouds of so-called cool fuel haunting the facilities of lots of these galaxies.

Dr. Bowyer’s different ardour was alien life.

He was impressed by the Cyclops Report, a 1971 NASA research that proposed a large array of radio telescopes to look the sky for alien radio indicators. Cyclops was by no means constructed, however in 1977 Dr. Bowyer began his personal search utilizing the College of California radio telescope at Hat Creek, close to Mount Lassen in Northern California.

The Seek for Extraterrestrial Radio Emissions From Close by Developed Clever Populations, or Serendip because it was recognized, was designed to piggyback on different astronomers’ radio observations. Within the background it could scan 100 radio frequencies, or channels, at a time, hoping to tune in E.T.

One of many folks Dr. Bowyer recruited to work on the undertaking was a younger astronomer named Jill Tarter, wanted for her potential to program the type of laptop used to research the indicators. Dr. Tarter would go on to move the Middle for SETI Analysis in close by Mountain View, Calif., and served as a mannequin for the protagonist, performed by Jodie Foster, within the 1997 movie “Contact.” All he needed to do was give her a duplicate of the Cyclops report.

“I used to be hooked,” Dr. Tarter mentioned in an emailed assertion. “Stu modified my skilled profession perpetually. I want I might thank him once more.”

Dr. Tarter informed of a much less profitable effort at pulling in an outsider: John Billingham, a biologist at close by NASA Ames Analysis Middle and co-chair of the research that produced the Cyclops report.

Hoping to get some NASA cash for Serendip, Dr. Bowyer organized to fly Dr. Billingham and some Berkeley astronomers, together with Dr. Tarter, as much as Hat Creek in a small airplane someday in 1974.

On the return journey, Dr. Bowyer climbed into the again of the airplane, unbalancing it a lot that it nearly stalled taking off, and began mixing and serving drinks. Because it turned out, the day’s schedule had not included rest room time, and the airplane had no bathroom.

“The journey again to San Jose appeared to final perpetually, at the least as measured in bladder time,” Dr. Tarter mentioned.

On touchdown, the Berkeley astronomers burst out of the airplane’s door and, as Dr. Tarter informed it, “With out ceremony, handshakes or perhaps a goodbye wave, we ran in the direction of the pilots’ lounge and its ready loos.”

Dr. Billingham, or J.B. as they referred to as him, was left standing on the tarmac.

“Maybe not too shocking, we by no means bought any funding from J.B.!” Dr. Tarter mentioned.

Charles Stuart Bowyer was born on Aug. 2, 1934, in Toledo, Ohio, to Howard and Elizabeth Bowyer. His father was a pilot. As a boy he attended a one-room grade college close to his father’s farm in Orland Park, Ailing., earlier than happening the be valedictorian at Orland Park Excessive College. He graduated from Miami College of Ohio with a level in physics after which earned a Ph.D. from the Catholic College of America in Washington in 1965.

His early analysis was in X-ray astronomy, one other window on the universe that was open solely to devices in house. As a graduate pupil he was a part of a group that found one of many first recognized black holes, an erratic supply of X-rays within the Cygnus constellation now often called Cygnus X-1. It’s regarded as 15 instances as large because the solar.

He additionally detected X-rays emanating from the Crab nebula, the glowing threads of fuel that mark the positioning of a supernova explosion seen by Chinese language astronomers in 1054.

After stops on the Naval Analysis Laboratory in Washington and again on the Catholic College, Dr. Bowyer landed within the Berkeley astronomy division and the Area Sciences Laboratory. He made the division right into a booming heart for house astronomy and the seek for extraterrestrial intelligence. At his peak he had some 150 scientists and engineers working for him on varied house tasks.

Dr. Bowyer retired as a professor in 1994, however continued doing analysis because the director of the Middle for Excessive Ultraviolet Astrophysics at Berkeley.

Serendip survived and in 1999 started [email protected], which farmed out radio knowledge to house computer systems to research. The College of California now serves as headquarters for the most important seek for cosmic greetings but, the $100 million Breakthrough Pay attention effort.

Dr. Bowyer is survived by his spouse; two sons, William and Robert; a daughter, Elizabeth; and 5 grandchildren.

[email protected] took a break earlier this 12 months to research all its knowledge. However the search goes on.

To date there has solely been what astronomers name the Nice Silence. Maybe whoever is out there’s nonetheless ready for Dr. Bowyer to supply a drink.

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