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Gibson Reaves (1923–2005)

Published onDec 01, 2005
Gibson Reaves (1923–2005)

Gibson Reaves died on 8 April 2005 in Torrance, California, from advanced metastatic prostate cancer. He contributed to the early study of dwarf galaxies in the Virgo cluster, but his greatest contribution to astronomy lives in the students whom he taught at the Department of Astronomy at the University of Southern California.

Gibson was born on 26 December 1923 in Chicago, Illinois. His mother is Helen Gibson Reaves, from Little Rock, Arkansas, and his father is Hart Walker Reaves, co-founder of Reaves & Hay Insurance Adjusters. Since 1928 his family lived in Los Angeles, where Gibson received all of his undergraduate education from public schools which at that time were among the best in the country. From their home in rural West Los Angeles, he could see the Milky Way easily and built his own telescopes at home. In 1941 he entered UCLA with a dual major: Astronomy and Military Science, and Tactics and Seacoast Artillery (ROTC). He was trained as a T 5 radio operator, CW and code, and radio repairman. He served with the combat engineers on Panay in the Philippines. Luckily he saw no combat.

He completed a BA in Astronomy at UCLA in 1947, and entered the PhD program at the University of California Berkeley, during which time he was a Lick Observatory Fellow in residence on Mount Hamilton. His PhD Thesis was on the on dwarf galaxies in the Virgo Cluster. After his graduation in 1952, he joined the faculty at the University of Southern California and remained there until he retired in 1997.

As an undergraduate at UCLA, Gibson was fortunate to have two outstanding and extremely different professors, Frederick C. Leonard and Samuel Herrick at Berkeley and Lick Observatory. Looking back, we realize that, while he was an original scholar, he was not an exceptionally good student: He put much more effort into his own research than into his classes. At USC Gibson was fortunate to have as mentor Dr. John A. Russell, the epitome of a gentleman and a scholar. The mission of the department was to offer an undergraduate major appropriate for the student; no graduate work was permitted. Nearly all of Gibson's teaching, lectures, exercises and homework were based on the literature. He rarely followed a textbook.

In 1969 he was a visiting lecturer at the University of Basel. In 1971 he initiated the Astronomy-History-Philosophy interdivisional major. In 1974 he received the Excellence in Teaching award. His calculations of Jupiter's satellites were used by Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Asteroid 3007 was named for him in 1985, and the name of a favorite research target in the Virgo cluster GR8 bears his initials. He served as an expert witness in several court cases. In 1987 he became an Associate Meritus of Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. He was a member of the International Astronomical Union, American Astronomical Society, Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Meteoritical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was a member of the Board of Advisors at Lowell Observatory.

He is survived by his wife Mary, his son Benjamin (b.1959 in Los Angeles), and his granddaughter, Grace (b. 1990 in Minoo, Japan)

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