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Guenter E. Brueckner (1934–1998)

Published onJan 01, 1999
Guenter E. Brueckner (1934–1998)

After a valiant, 9-month struggle with pancreatic cancer, Guenter Brueckner died on 11 July 1998 in Fairfax, Virginia, at the age of 63. He had spent 31 years of his scientific career at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), first as Head of the Solar Spectroscopy Section in the Rocket Spectroscopy Branch under Dr. Richard Tousey and then as the Head of the Solar Physics Branch, one of the two solar physics groups created when Tousey retired. Guenter was recognized as a very effective leader in developing advanced instrumentation to address problems in solar physics. Throughout his career, he was interested in new instrumentation that increased spatial or spectral resolution or photometric accuracy.

Born in Dresden, Germany on 26 December 1934, Brueckner entered the University of Gottingen in 1953 to study physics and mathematics and obtained his PhD there in 1960 under Prof. Ten Bruggencate, with a dissertation entitled, "A Photometric Atlas of the Near Ultraviolet Solar Spectrum 2629-2988 Ǻ." Part of his graduate work involved the design and construction of an automatic microdensitometer. His Dr. Habilitation in 1966 recognized work on the three dimensional structure of solar magnetic fields. In 1967, Tousey offered Guenter a position in the space program, working on NRL's effort for the Skylab manned laboratory in space. He had an immediate impact. The group was building a white light coronograph for OSO-7. Guenter suggested that a new detector under military development, an SEC vidicon, could be used to image the corona in a single exposure. This enabled the instrument to record the first coronal mass ejection (CME) event. These now play a major role in our understanding of the sun-earth connection.

The entire Skylab spacecraft and the NRL experiments in particular were extremely successful. Some of the images are still being analyzed and used today to illustrate solar conditions. Brueckner also had a major impact on NASA's suborbital program. The pointing system he developed for a 1970 eclipse rocket and for Skylab resulted in the first high resolution spectra of the solar ultraviolet and the detection of large non-thermal motions in the solar transition zone. He conceived the High Resolution Telescope and Spectrograph to provide spatially-resolved spectra and developed it for rocket flights with John-David Bartoe. Results from this program included the first observations of molecular hydrogen in the sun and observations of very energetic transition region and coronal events, which Guenter proposed might contribute to coronal heating and the solar wind. He was awarded an honorary PhD by the University of Oslo in 1982 for the HRTS work.

The HRTS was scheduled for 1977 flight on Spacelab, and Guenter's colleagues, Bartoe and Dianne K. Prinz were selected as payload specialists. Guenter received the Navy's Superior Civilian Service Award for developing the concept of non-astronaut scientists on Spacelab. To address the issue of solar ultraviolet variability, Brueckner and Bartoe designed the Solar Ultraviolet Spectral Irradiance Monitor, which flew on a number of shuttle missions and on the 1991 Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite, where it continues to operate.

Guenter's last and largest program was the Large Angle Spectrometric Coronagraph on SOHO. Its goal was to image the inner corona in various spectral lines, using a FabryPerot Interferometer and permitting coronal observations simultaneously from 1.1 to 32 solar radii. LASCO has been returning images of CMEs and sun-grazing comets as well as of the corona. Guenter's last paper reported the discovery of an 80-hour rule for the length of time between the onset of a CME at the sun and the maximum disturbance of the geomagnetic field. We at NRL and in the solar physics community will certainly miss him.

Photo courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory.

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