Brian G. Marsden
Brian Geoffrey Marsden
|Died||November 18, 2010 (aged 73)|
|Alma mater||New College, Oxford|
|Known for||Minor Planet Center|
Brian Geoffrey Marsden (5 August 1937 – 18 November 2010) was a British astronomer and the longtime director of the Minor Planet Center (MPC) at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (director emeritus from 2006 to 2010).
Marsden specialized in celestial mechanics and astrometry, collecting data on the positions of asteroids and comets and computing their orbits, often from minimal observational information and providing their future positions on International Astronomical Union (IAU) circulars. In addition to serving as MPC director since 1978, he served as the director of the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT) from 1968 to 1999. He was president of IAU Commission 6 (2000–2003) and Commission 20 (1976–1979).
Marsden helped recover once lost asteroids and lost comets. Some asteroid and comet discoveries of previous decades were "lost" because not enough observational data had been obtained at the time to determine a reliable enough orbit to know where to look for re-observation at future dates. Occasionally, a newly discovered object turns out to be a rediscovery of a previously lost object, which can be determined by calculating its orbit backwards into the past and matching calculated positions with the previously recorded positions of the lost object. In the case of comets this is especially tricky because of nongravitational forces that can affect their orbits (one of which is emission of jets of gas from the comet nucleus), but Marsden has specialized in calculating such nongravitational forces. Notably, he successfully predicted the 1992 return of the once-lost Comet Swift-Tuttle.
In May 1993, Marsden concluded that the trajectory of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 would put it onto a course to collide with Jupiter in July 1994, marking the first ever time that a cometary-planetary impact was successfully predicted in advance.
In 1998, he miscalculated that an asteroid, (35396) 1997 XF11 had a small, but non-zero, probability of striking the Earth in 2028. Marsden chose to issue a press release, which Robert Roy Britt called a false alarm.
- "... astronomers created a media storm by announcing that an asteroid could collide with Earth in 2028, only to revise the estimates hours later."—Gretchen Vogel, Science, 20 March 1998
Other asteroid researchers demonstrated within hours that the computation was in error and Marsden himself admitted the announcement was a strategy which needed "rethinking", and NASA asked astronomers not to sound a public alarm like that again but to communicate with each other. He took some criticism for publicizing this prediction right when movie companies were publicizing films like Deep Impact (see also Science by press conference). However, Marsden justified his actions with the argument that the problem of detecting asteroids needs more attention:
- "Much as the incident was bad for my reputation, we needed a scare like that to bring attention to this problem." (Scientific American magazine, 2003)
Follow-up work determined that an impact would be unlikely.
He once proposed that Pluto should be cross-listed as both a planet and a minor planet and assigned the asteroid number 10000; however, this proposal was not accepted. A similar proposal was, however, finally accepted in 2006 when Pluto was designated minor planet 134340 and also declared a dwarf planet.
Marsden won enmity with a segment of the public as a leader of the campaign to reclassify Pluto thus more inclusively with the newly discovered and rapidly growing class of objects, the "Trans-Neptunians", the discovery of which was made possible by CCD-array detectors and dedicated surveys or incidental discoveries of these objects with relatively large telescopes. Some felt emotionally that the recognition of the suggested "dual-citizenship" would be to downgrade Pluto. Partly at his urging, the International Astronomical Union voted at a meeting in Prague in 2006 to designate Pluto and three asteroids “dwarf planets.”, which are objects that have not dynamically cleared their orbits of other debris (except, e.g., for collections of objects stably librating dynamically at the "Lagrange-points", the libration points L4 and L5 of large, classical planets, as in the case of the Jovian "Trojan" asteroids).
|37556 Svyaztie||Aug 28, 1982||with N. S. Chernykh||MPC|
He married Nancy Lou Zissell; they had a daughter, Cynthia, and a son, Jonathan. Brian credited his mother for inspiring his interest in astronomy when she showed him a solar eclipse on September 10, 1942; that the date and time could be projected far in advance very much impressed him.
Brian was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome in 2008 that progressed to leukemia in 2010. He issued his last Minor Planet Electronic Circular on 2010 November 10 (a Wednesday), and entered hospital on Friday, November 12, with a fever. He succumbed to infection a week later. He was cremated and his ashes are inurned at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA.
- Merlin Medal and Gift of the British Astronomical Association (1965)
- Walter Goodacre Medal of the British Astronomical Association (1979)
- George Van Biesbroeck Prize of the American Astronomical Society (1989)
- Brouwer Award of the Division on Dynamical Astronomy of the American Astronomical Society (1995)
- Royal Astronomical Society Award for Service to Astronomy and Geophysics (2006)
- Member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.
Named after him
- Gingerich, O. (2010). "Brian Marsden (1937–2010)". Nature. 468 (7327): 1042. Bibcode:2010Natur.468.1042G. doi:10.1038/4681042a. PMID 21179155.
- "MPEC 2010-W10 : BRIAN MARSDEN (1937 August 5-2010 November 18)". Minor Planet Center. November 18, 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-18.
- DENNIS HEVESI (November 22, 2010). "Brian Marsden, Tracker of Comets, Dies at 73". The New York Times.
- Kelly Beatty (November 18, 2010). "Brian G. Marsden (1937-2010)". Sky and Telescope.
- Pointless Asteroid Scare Archived 2011-01-09 at the Wayback Machine.
- Run for your lives! (Uh, never mind.)
- Death of Brian Marsden
- Thomas H. Maugh II (November 20, 2010). "Brian Marsden dies at 73; astronomer who tracked comets and asteroids". The Los Angeles Times.
- "Brian Marsden". The Economist. 2 December 2010. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
- "Gruppe 2: Fysikkfag (herunder astronomi, fysikk og geofysikk)" (in Norwegian). Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Retrieved 7 October 2010.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Brian G. Marsden|
- "Man in the News; A Cheery Herald of Fear: Brian Geoffrey Marsden" in The New York Times (13 March 1998)
- "1997 XF11 – the true story" in The Journal of the British Astronomical Association Vol. 109, No.1 (February 1999)
- The Great Asteroid Scare - Marsden's announcement about XF11 made front page headlines
- Obituary of Brian Marsden, The Daily Telegraph, 6 December, 2010