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Joseph T. Pollock (1950–2022)

Pollock was a masterful teacher. His research interests ranged from photometry of minor planets and variable stars to variability in quasars.

Published onNov 08, 2022
Joseph T. Pollock (1950–2022)

Photo credit: unknown.

Dr. Joseph T. Pollock, of Vilas, North Carolina, passed away January 22, 2022 after a brief illness. He was 71.

Pollock was born on December 16, 1950, in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in astronomy from Pennsylvania State University and his Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Florida (UF). As a graduate student at UF he worked under Alex Smith doing photographic photometry of quasars and participated in the development of techniques in hypersensitizing photographic plates.

At the time of his death, Joe was a retired professor of astronomy in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Appalachian State University (App State), where he taught for more than 35 years after joining the faculty in 1981. He dabbled in photometry of variable stars and then resumed his quasar work when CCD cameras were installed at the university’s Dark Sky Observatory (DSO).

His interests then shifted to precision photometry of asteroids, primarily using the telescopes on Skynet, including two at DSO. Particularly noteworthy were his contributions to studying binary asteroids and to the discovery of the first asteroid circled by rings. Joe also made successful observations of the 2017 occultation of a star by Triton, and attempted observations of an occultation of a star by Titan in 2018. The latter event was frustrated by clouds. A minor planet was named “Joepollock” in recognition of his contributions to the study of the properties of asteroids.

Joe’s intelligence, wit, humility, enthusiasm and patience made him a master teacher who loved, and was loved by, his students. He was generous with his time and resources, and App State honored him with the Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award in the College of Arts and Sciences for 2014–15 and the Harvey R. Durham Outstanding Freshman Advocate Award in 2006. Joe was the first director of the Department of Physics and Astronomy’s graduate program.

Joe also was the driving force in the development of the GoTo Astronomy Observational Facility at the campus Rankin Science Building — which features 15 telescopes, a retractable roof, and an adjacent lab. Used for university classes, and for public and K-12 educational tours, it is one of the best of its kind in the country.

Joe was a passionate collector of daguerreotypes. He loved to introduce people to daguerreotypes and other collectibles, as he saw value in collecting them as a practice for relaxation and good mental health. In the 1990’s, he developed a technique to clean and restore daguerreotypes, revealing the faces of people long obscured by the plates’ deterioration. He was a member of The Daguerreian Society, where he spoke at events.

Joe is remembered as kind, congenial, intuitive, generous, sensitive, thoughtful, quick-witted, playful, and a loyal friend. He had a remarkable sense of humor, and had a pun for every occasion.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Joseph and Cecelia Pollock. Survivors include two brothers, Robert Pollock and wife Jean of Roseburg, Oregon, and James Pollock and wife Nina of Portland, Oregon; nephew Michael Pollock and wife Adrienne of Puyallup, Washington; and grandnephew Ashton Pollock and grandniece Natalie Pollock.

For more information see Pollock’s AstroGen entry.

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