Günther H. E. Elste was born in 1923 in Jauer, in the German province of Silesia, now a part of Poland. He served in the German navy from 1942 until the end of World War II, then studied mathematics, physics, and astronomy at the baccalaureate level at the University of Göttingen from 1946 to 1950. Elste went on to obtain his PhD in astronomy from Göttingen in 1954, specializing in solar physics. His first publication, “The Correction of Spectral Lines by Using Voigt Functions,” about solar line profiles, appeared in the Zeitschrift für Astrophysik in 1953. In May of 1954, Elste accepted an offer from the University of Michigan to work with Leo Goldberg, Edith Muller, and Lawrence Aller on the development of numerical algorithms to determine the abundances of the chemical elements in the Sun.
After returning to Göttingen as a faculty member in astronomy from 1956 to 1962, Elste came back to Michigan as an Assistant Professor, and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1968. He made use of computers very early in his career, and continued to employ them for his work with nine Ph.D. students on solar and stellar models and abundances. For nearly a decade, his Model 10 computer program was the definitive solar atmospheric model among stellar-abundance researchers.
Elste retired from the University of Michigan in December 1991. He had a deep love of athletics, and enjoyed skiing, running track, and swimming. His wife Annelie died in 2002. They had two children, Volker (b. 1951) and Birgitte (b. 1957).