George H. Rieke

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George H. Rieke (born January 5, 1943), a noted American infrared astronomer, is Deputy Director of the Steward Observatory and Regents Professor of Astronomy at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He led the experiment design and development team for the Multiband Imaging Photometer for Spitzer (MIPS) instrument on NASA's infrared Spitzer Space Telescope, and currently co-chairs the science team of the Mid-Infrared Instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).[1]

Rieke was elected to fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in mathematics and physics category on May 2, 2003. Rieke was elected to membership of the National Academy of Sciences on May 3, 2011. He was cited for his contributions as an infrared observer and instrumentalist.

Among other contributions, Rieke:

  • Discovered ultraluminous infrared galaxies, the possible birthplaces of quasars;
  • Demonstrated that the evolution of galactic nuclei is shaped by intense episodes of star formation;
  • Discovered that massive stars have recently formed in the center of the Milky Way and that they, not a central black hole, power this region;
  • Demonstrated that optical/infrared emission from active galactic nuclei results from several distinct processes rather than synchrotron emission;
  • Demonstrated that Saturn has a substantial internal energy source;
  • Verified that the K/T impactor theory could account for massive extinction events by observation and modeling of the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter.

Rieke helped develop the first infrared-optimized telescope and constructed a series of state-of-the-art focal plane instruments, the most advanced of which is the first high performance far infrared detector array. Rieke was involved with the earliest infrared space missions, including the Infrared Astronomy Satellite (IRAS) and Space Lab 2. He led the Multiband Imaging Photometer (MIPS) instrument team for Spitzer. The highly sensitive MIPS camera was built under Rieke's leadership at Steward Observatory. He is a co-investigator for the SIRTF Nearby Galaxies Survey. Also, Rieke is the lead scientist on a team to produce a mid-infrared instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, currently scheduled for launch in 2014.


Ph.D. Physics 1969 Harvard University

M.S. Physics 1965 Harvard University

B.A. Physics 1964 Oberlin College


  1. ^ George H. Rieke University of Arizona faculty website


  • [1] Detection of light: from the ultraviolet to the submillimeter, George Rieke, Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • [2] The Last of the Great Observatories: Spitzer and the Era of Faster, Better, Cheaper at NASA, George H. Rieke, University of Arizona Press, 2006.