George H. Rieke

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George H. Rieke (born January 5, 1943), a noted American infrared astronomer, is former Deputy Director of the Steward Observatory and Regents Professor of Astronomy and Planetary Sciences 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 chairs the science team of the Mid-Infrared Instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).[1]

Rieke was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in mathematics and physics category on May 2, 2003. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences on May 3, 2011. He was cited for his contributions as an infrared observer and instrumentalist. He was awarded a Sloan Research Fellowship in 1976, a Vikram Sarabhai Professorship in 1986, a NASA Public Service Group Achievement Award in 1986, a NASA Public Service Medal in 2005, and the Koffler Prize for creative scholarship at the University of Arizona in 2006.

Among other contributions, Rieke and his group:

  • Discovered ultraluminous infrared galaxies, the possible birthplaces of quasars[2];
  • Demonstrated that the evolution of galactic nuclei is shaped by intense episodes of star formation, termed starbursts[3];
  • 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[4];
  • Demonstrated that optical/infrared emission from active galactic nuclei results from several distinct processes rather than synchrotron emission, showed that the infrared emission is dominated by thermal emission by dust heated by the central engine[5,6];
  • Demonstrated that Saturn has a substantial internal energy source[7];
  • Was one of the first to trace the trend of the numbers of stars and brown dwarfs with mass down into the brown dwarf regime[8];
  • 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[9];
  • Documented and provided theoretical insight to the evolution of planetary debris disks, systems of dust and larger grains orbiting other stars and produced by collisions among their asteroids[10,11];
  • Discovered that planetary debris disks around young stars can vary in amount of dust on yearly or even monthly timescales, providing a glimpse into the violent events that build terrestrial planets[12,13].

Rieke helped develop the first infrared-optimized telescope and constructed a series of state-of-the-art focal plane instruments. Rieke was involved with the Space Lab 2 infrared telescope, a pioneering infrared space mission. He led the Multiband Imaging Photometer (MIPS) instrument team for Spitzer. The highly sensitive MIPS camera was built at Ball Aerospace under Rieke's leadership. It provided very high performance imaging and efficient surveying at 24, 70, and 160 microns; the detector arrays for the latter two bands were developed and build under direction by Rieke, Frank Low, and Erick Young at Steward Observatory. Also, Rieke is the lead scientist on a team to produce a mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) for the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2018. MIRI operates from 5 to 28.5 microns, providing imaging, coronagraphy, and low and medium resolution spectroscopy. Its focal plane and control electronics were developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (detectors from Raytheon Vision Systems), its crycooler at Northrop Grumman collaborating with JPL, and its optical system and instrument testing under Gillian Wright leading a European Consortium of national institutions. See


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

[2] Rieke and Low 1972, ApJL, 176, L95

[3] Rieke et al. 1980, ApJ, 238, 24

[4] Rieke, Rieke, and Paul 1989, ApJ, 336, 752

[5] Rieke 1978, ApJ, 226, 550

[6] Rieke and Lebofsky 1981, ApJ, 250, 87

[7] Rieke 1975, Icarus, 26, 37

[8] Luhman, Rieke, et al. 2000, ApJ, 540, 1016

[9] Kim, Ruiz, Rieke et al. 1999, Icarus, 138, 164

[10] Rieke et al. 2005, ApJ, 620, 1010

[11] Gaspar, Rieke, and Balog 2013, ApJ, 768, 25

[12] Meng, Rieke, et al. 2012, ApJL, 751, 17

[13] Meng, Su, Rieke et al. 2014, Science, 345, 1032


  • [1] Detection of Light: from the Ultraviolet to the Submillimeter, George Rieke, Cambridge University Press, 1994; second edition 2002.
  • [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. Received starred review from Publishedrs Weekly.
  • [3] Measuring the Universe: A Multiwavelength Perspective, George H. Rieke, Cambridge University Press, 2012. Winner of the Chambliss Award for astronomical textbook writing.