(meteorobs) Tom Van Flandern (1940-2009)
Skywayinc at aol.com
Skywayinc at aol.com
Mon Jan 12 13:24:41 EST 2009
I received this E-Mail earlier this morning from the noted occultation
David Dunham concerning the untimely death of astronomer Tom Van Flandern,
who passed away on January 9.
I should also add that Tom also worked closely with meteorobs own, Esko
Lytinnen concerning calculations for the series of Leonid meteor storms that we
all experienced during the 1999-2002 interval. He was very helpful to me in
my writing of several feature articles on the Leonids for S&T. Never had the
opportunity/pleasure to meet him directly, but it was plain to see that he
was a good guy and really loved his work.
-- joe rao
Alan Fiala sent me the message from Brenda Corbin below
informing us of the sad passing of Tom Van Flandern.
On 1970 March 7th, Tom observed a total solar eclipse from
near the northern limit of totality, while I observed the same
eclipse near the southern limit; this was the genesis of modern
efforts to observe eclipses this way for solar radius
measurements. Tom advocated making these observations, and has
organized the only sizeable public successful "Eclipse Edge"
expeditions, starting in 1991 July in Mexico (I was with him
there) and continuing through the 2002 December eclipse in
>From the mid-1960's into the 1970's, Tom and I worked
closely together to establish the first comprehensive computer
software system for predicting and analyzing lunar occultations,
especially the then new field of grazing occultations. In those
days, the work was more difficult than now, done with punched
cards and mainframe computers, mainly at the U.S. Naval
Observatory (USNO) where Tom worked at the time. Tom preferred
to do the analysis while letting me organize the observer
network that became IOTA, but he and his work were vital to
IOTA's beginnings. He greatly expanded the small "Evans"
program (named for Carroll Evans in California) to generate
comprehensive modern-style total lunar occultation predictions,
which inspired the similar predictions now produced by WinOccult
and Lunar Occultation Workbench.
Tom also became interested in asteroidal occultations,
especially after observing the occultation of a 9th-mag. star by
(18) Melpomene photoelectrically at USNO on 1978 Dec. 11 [that
was also my first asteroidal occultation, 30 years to the day
before Scotty Degenhardt's remarkable 14-station success with
(135) Hertha last month]. I used Tom's software to analyze
asteroidal occultation observations until a few years ago, when
that function is now performed with WinOccult. Tom listened
when, in 1977 and 1978, Paul Maley and others described
secondary occultations indicating that asteroids probably had
satellites, many years before those objects were accepted as
real by most astronomers, and published some pioneering papers
discussing the dynamics of binary asteroids.
Besides our close astronomical collaboration, I am also
indebted to Tom personally, he was a great friend who helped
secure my employment with Computer Sciences Corporation in 1976
in spite of poor recommendations from my previous two "old
school" bosses who did not appreciate my work. That led to my
collaboration with Dr. Robert Farquhar ever since that year, on
the design of orbits for numerous space missions, including the
ISEE-3/ International Cometary Explorer (first space mission to
a comet in Sept. 1985, along with many other "firsts") and the
NEAR Shoemaker mission to (433) Eros in 2000 - 2001. Tom also
introduced me to his employee, Joan Bixby, whom I married in
An asteroid will be named for Tom with the next batch of
Minor Planet Circulars at the next full moon on February 9.
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