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Roger L. Ptak (1938–2014)

Ptak directed the DePauw University’s astronomy department. He conducted observational studies of active galaxies and was passionate about public outreach.

Published onDec 05, 2022
Roger L. Ptak (1938–2014)
Figure 1

Photo credit: DePauw University Archives and Special Collections.

Retired Bowling Green State University physics professor Roger Ptak, who directed the university’s astronomy department and was sought after for his insights on celestial events, died Thursday, September 18, 2014 in Corning, New York, in an accident.

Ptak, 76, was struck by a vehicle outside a restaurant where he had stopped while returning home to Northport, Maine, from a visit in Ohio, his wife, Donna said.

In retirement, he continued to write a monthly astronomy column, Stardust, for newspapers in Bryan and Bowling Green and in Maine, said his wife. His last column touched on the October skies and the upcoming lunar eclipse.

“His true passion was the celestial sky and communicating his love of the stars to the public in his monthly column,” his daughter Marcianna Ptak Delaney wrote in a tribute to her father.

After moving to Northport, Maine, in 1998, he kept two telescopes at the house: one for nighttime viewing and a second to examine the sun, his wife said.

“He liked to travel and he loved to read and listen to music of all kinds,” Donna Ptak said.

He was born on Sept. 18, 1938, in Wyandotte, Mich., and received his bachelor’s degree at the University of Detroit in 1960. He attended Cornell University for his master’s and doctorate degrees. He completed his academic studies in 1966, graduating summa cum laude.

At Bowling Green, he teamed up with Ronald Stoner to study quasars, distant astronomical bodies that appear like stars but produce tens of thousands times more energy than a normal galaxy, and Seyfert galaxies, which are similar to quasars, but are dimmer and less energy-intense. They received grants from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to further their research, according to Bowling Green State University archives.

In addition to his monthly column, he shared his love of astronomy by encouraging students and the general public to look at the night skies through telescopes at the university campus. During a solar eclipse, the public was allowed to peer through a special telescope designed to protect the eyes from the sun’s intense light.

Ptak and Stoner made regular trips to NASA’s Goddard Space Center in Maryland to examine findings on the Seyfert galaxies and quasars from NASA satellites.

When early Viking missions went to Mars in 1977 to examine whether life existed on the Red Planet, Ptak was called on to share his knowledge with the public, explaining what the satellites’ camera might have recorded.

During retirement, he worked part time at the local hospital as a pharmacy technician. He was active in St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church there and volunteered as a lecturer at Belfast Senior College in a program for people 50 years and older.

Ptak is survived by his wife, the former Donna West, whom he married on June 15, 1963; sons Michael William and David Roger Ptak; daughter Marcianna Ptak Delaney, and five grandchildren.

Adapted and reproduced with permission from The Blade, Sept. 22, 2014. See also the DePauw University obituary.

For additional information, see Ptak’s AstroGen entry.

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