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Howard H. Lanning (1946–2007)

Published onJan 01, 2009
Howard H. Lanning (1946–2007)

Howard H. Lanning died 20 December 2007 in Tucson, Arizona. He was a Software Quality Assurance Engineer for the Data Products Program at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory [NOAO] in Tucson, having returned to his native West after twenty years at the Space Telescope Science Institute [STScI] in Baltimore, Maryland.

Throughout his career in roles supporting other astronomers, Howard steadily and persistently worked at his own research programs, most notably the identification and study of UV-bright sources in the Sandage Two-Color Survey of the Galactic Plane. Minor planet 2000 QJ248 has been named (61913) Lanning in recognition of his contributions.

The son of James Clyde Lanning and Ethel Malan Lanning, Howard was born 26 May 1946, in Brawley, a small community near Calipatria, California. His parents worked for the local school district where his late father was Superintendent of Maintenance and Grounds and his mother was a school principal. After graduating from high school in a class of 52, Howard earned his A.A. degree at Imperial Valley Junior College, majoring in Astronomy and minoring in Mathematics. He completed his A.B. degree in Applied Arts and Sciences at San Diego State University [SDSU] in 1969 with the same major and minor. In 1974, he completed his M.S. in Astronomy at SDSU with a thesis on the period variation of the white-dwarf eclipsing binary BD +16 516.

During his time at SDSU Lanning was a Research Assistant/Observer at the former Hale Observatories, working on the optical identification of X-ray sources under the direction of Allan Sandage. His second refereed paper, the first of several finding lists of UV-bright stars arising from this work, appeared in 1973. Fellow students and faculty remember that he was a self-starter, initiating many observing projects of his own at Mount Laguna Observatory and encouraging others to do the same.

For more than a decade Lanning was an observer and night assistant at Mount Wilson Observatory, operating the 1.5m and 2.5m (Hooker) telescopes and supporting users. He was one of the principal observers in the HK project, which used the 1.5m to study the variations in chromospheric activity and rotational modulation of late-type stars. He used his observing time expertly to obtain photometry and spectroscopy of close binary stars for his own research projects. Former Caltech graduate students who were fortunate to have Lanning as a night assistant marveled at his knowledge of the telescopes and instrumentation, in particular his ability to read setting circles and acquire targets by engaging the gravity-driven clock drive of the Hooker telescope at exactly the right moment.

In 1985 Lanning, with his wife, Sheryl Falgout, and stepson, Mario Lanning, relocated to Baltimore, to a position with Computer Sciences Corporation at STScI. He was an Operations Astronomer and then Software Testing Engineer, providing instrument and contact support for the Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph. In 2005, the family moved to Tucson and NOAO. His work on the UV-bright star survey continued at both locations, with various collaborators.

Lanning was active in the broader astronomical community, writing newspaper articles on astronomy for the lay person; giving talks to civic groups, school children, and amateur astronomers; and, from 2006, coordinating the Donation Archive Program of the AAS.

Lanning published 26 scientific papers in major journals, along with numerous other contributions, circulars, and technical reports. His finding lists and other studies of UV-bright stars, emphasizing crowded star fields where modern surveys have not probed, remain of value today. Several stars from these lists have turned out to be cataclysmic variables. Most recently, a study of the reduced proper motions of these objects has demonstrated that the Lanning stars are a rich source of heretofore unidentified white dwarfs.

Lanning is survived by his wife of 25 years, a stepson, and his mother.

The authors acknowledge valuable assistance from Sheryl Falgout, Burt Nelson, and Paul Etzel.

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