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Igor Jurkevich (1928–1996)

Published onJan 01, 1997
Igor Jurkevich (1928–1996)

John Irwin Slide Collection

AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

Igor Jurkevich was born in Bmo, Czechoslovakia on 16 September 1928 and completed his secondary education at the Russian Gymnasium of the Displaced Persons' camp in Schleissheim, Germany, outside Munich. After World War II, he came to the United States and received his BS in Mathematics at Dennison and graduate degrees in Physics (1955) and Astronomy (1964) at the University of Pennsylvania.

Igor's early astronomical work concentrated on light curves of eclipsing binaries. In 1959, Z. Kopal's Close Binary Stars emphasized the evolution of these binaries and how they fitted and failed to fit into the theory of single star evolution. The book also codified Kopal's formalism for light curve analysis, which he claimed to be more powerful than J.E. Merrill's then-dominant methodology. By 1970, Igor could write: " ... attempts to analyze binary systems by indirect methods hold little promise ... such systems should be studied by direct methods implemented in terms of computer simulation techniques." ( Vistas in Astronomy 12, 63.) His (and A.V. Petty's) light curve error analysis was given at the 1980 NATO Summer Symposium in Maratea, Italy. A year earlier, Igor and K.-C. Leung had formalized the concept of a "disturbing" light curve running atop a conventional ellipsoidal or eclipsing one and showed how to deconvolve these for the case of VW Cep. No physical interpretation of the "disturbing" light curve was offered by them, but they set the opportunity to recognize starspot perturbations of light curves and differential stellar rotation.

Igor's other career was made in the US space program at RCA (1955-1959), the GE Space Sciences Laboratory (1959-1972), and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) (1972-1992). His papers in space science outnumber the astronomical ones, and we mention only a few of his unclassified contributions. At GE, he worked on the LST, OAO, Nimbus, Ranger, Mariner, Explorer, and Voyager programs. While at NRL, he, Petty, and J.S. Lee created an interpretive algorithm for SAR imagery, and, with Lee and R.R. Meier, Jurkevich developed a novel approach to thick planetary atmospheres, using very robust Monte Carlo simulations for photon propagation.

To his many friends and colleagues, Igor was an insightful scientist and a hearty and congenial personality, with a trenchant insight into the motives and accomplishments of a considerable number of Soviet space scientists. In apparent good health, he died suddenly of a heart attack on 10 October 1996. He is survived by Marianna, his wife of 44 years, and three children.

Photo (vailable in PDF version) courtesy University of Pennsylvania.

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