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Daniel E. Harris (1934–2015)

Published onDec 01, 2015
Daniel E. Harris (1934–2015)

Our friend and colleague, Daniel E. Harris, died on December 6th 2015. Dan was a passionate astronomer and world traveller. He led a rich and scientifically productive life until the end.

Dan was the first person to receive a PhD in radio astronomy at Caltech where he was a student of John Bolton, one of the fathers of Radio Astronomy and the founder of the Owens Valley Radio Observatory that Dan used for his thesis and first publications. One of Dan's first projects was with Jim Roberts to measure improved positions and flux densities for radio sources in the newly released 3C catalog. During this study, Dan discovered the first flat spectrum radio sources, which he named CTA 21, CTA 26, and CTA 102 and which were later identified as quasars. His PhD thesis resulted in the then definitive study of the evolution of supernova remnants. Later Dan worked on radio galaxies and active galactic nuclei (AGN) first at radio and then at X-ray wavelengths with the Einstein, ROSAT, and Chandra Observatories where he pioneered the new field of relativistic X-ray jets and how they relate to radio galaxies and AGN.

After graduating from Caltech in 1961, Dan wanted to see the world. Beginning in 1962, Dan lived in Bologna, Italy, where he worked with Professor Marcello Ceccarelli and the radio astronomy group and was active in the construction of the Northern Cross Radio Observatory ("la Croce"), the first Italian radio telescope. He left Bologna in the Spring of 1964 as his friends remember him to "divenir del mondo esperto e de li vizi umani e del valore"1, as he joined V. Radhakrishnan (Rad) and Dave Morris to sail in a 36-ft trimaran from England to Puerto Rico where he took a position at the Arecibo Observatory working with Marshall Cohen on interplanetary scintillations. After five years at the Arecibo Observatory, Dan went on to work at the Argentinian Institute of Radio Astronomy, Harvard University, the Dwingeloo Radio Observatory in the Netherlands, and at the Dominion Radio Observatory in Penticton, Canada. He finally returned to the U.S. in 1980 and spent the next 35 years at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

One of Dan's most memorable attributes was his cheerful enjoyment of life. Dan was the life of the party; he was joyful, open and friendly. Dan enjoyed good food, drinks, and conversations with friends and strangers alike. Dan belonged to a time prior to big egos when scientific discoveries seemed to be made by the curious, adventurous, and non-conformists.

Dan's free spirit manifested itself in his publications. Dan was a rigorous scientist who was not afraid of writing his papers with a hint of good humour. When presenting new radio measurements Dan went for "descriptive names" to describe radio maps2 such as the "original," the "goldfish," the "double," the "beaver," the "bean." At a recent IAU symposium held in the Galápagos Islands, where many of his colleagues and friends gathered to celebrate his 80th birthday, Dan's talk was entitled: "Slugs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails: jets from an unconventional angle."

As Dan worked with observatories outside the university system he was not officially a faculty member, but he mentored and collaborated with many younger researchers. This younger crowd that with sadness write these lines, always looked up to Dan as a role model in life as well as science, and will most of all miss his steadfast support. He was always ready to share his experience, expertise, and data.

Even after leaving his full-time position with Chandra, Dan never retired. He kept working part-time at the SAO where he continued his research and was awarded competitive grants, telescope time, published, and led collaborations.

Dan also worked for peace causes throughout his life. Dan joined the tax resistance movement during the Vietnam war, a movement of hundreds of thousands of Americans who refused to pay a portion of their income tax to the government in order to defund the war. He was also an active member of the organization that published the Astronomers and the Arms Race Newsletter. As a concerned scientist, Dan advocated against the star wars agenda and the militarization of space during the eighties.

Dan was an active member of the AAS and frequent participant at meetings. The last meeting he attended was the 2015 Seattle one where he presented a talk and chaired a session. His presence at the 2015 meeting is a testament of his unwavering energy.

Dan is survived by his wife Barbara, three children: Justine, Seth, and Leila, and four grandchildren.

Obituary Written By: Juan P. Madrid (CSIRO, Australia), Francesco Massaro (Universit`a degli Studi di Torino, Italy), Teddy Cheung (Naval Research Laboratory, USA), with input from Ken Kellermann (National Radio Astronomy Observatory, USA), and Roberto & Carla Fanti (Istituto di Radioastronomia - INAF - Bologna, Italy)

1 (Dante, Divine Comedy, "Inferno" XXVI), translation: "gain experience of the world and of the vices and the worth of men"

2 Harris, D. E., Kapahi, V. K., Ekers, R. D. 1980, A&AS, 39, 215

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