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James Jay Klavetter (1960–1997)

Published onJan 01, 1997
James Jay Klavetter (1960–1997)

Our colleague and friend, James Jay Klavetter, Assistant Professor of Astronomy at California State University, Sacramento, died of leukemia on 24 February 1997, at his home in Sacramento. Jim is survived by his parents Elaine and Floyd, sister Mary, and brothers Elmer and Floyd. Jim will be remembered as an inspired individual whose fascination with Nature shaped his life; he studied astronomy professionally and spent his leisure time outdoors with his dogs and his friends.

Jim was born on 12 December 1960. He was introduced to observational astronomy as a research assistant in the summer of 1981, unveiling a passion which continued throughout his life. In 1983, Jim received his undergraduate degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His undergraduate thesis, under Dick French and James Elliot, concerned the stabilization of the braided rings of Saturn by shepherd satellites. At MIT, Jim also worked with Ted Dunham on the effect of turbulence in aircraft boundary layers on the formation of images, to address imaging problems experienced with the Kuiper Airborne Observatory. During graduate school, Jim participated in photometric studies of variable stars, asteroids, and planetary satellites. Based on precise and well-sampled observations, which Jim obtained during marathon observing sessions at Kitt Peak, his ScD thesis (1989 MIT), under Jack Wisdom, demonstrated the chaotic nature of the rotational state of the Saturnian satellite Hyperion. This work is featured in Ivars Peterson's book Newton's Clock: Chaos in the Solar System.

Jim worked from 1989 to 1992 as a postdoc with Mike A'Hearn at the University of Maryland, using CCD images of CN to study the gaseous jets in Comet Halley. Their work strongly suggested that the CN was released from an extended source in the comet's coma, possibly refractory organic material. During this time, Jim also made infrared observation of Comet Levy at the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, from which he and Susan Hoban extracted the spatial extent of methanol in the comet's coma. In 1993, Jim joined the faculty at California State University (CSUS), Sacramento. At CSUS he was an energetic teacher, researcher, and faculty adviser to the local chapter of the Society of Physics Students. Jim involved his students at CSUS in his studies of near-infrared spectrophotometic observations of Saturnian satellites and the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts. He helped out with the Sacramento Valley Astronomical Society and visited local grade schools to share his wonder of astronomy with the children. Jim loved teaching and was well liked among his students. He will also be remembered for his cheerful laughter and humor which remained with him until the end.

In addition to studying and teaching astronomy, Jim had an insatiable desire to engage Nature, and he reveled in introducing Nature to others. Jim started the continuing tradition of the full moon hike up Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park for graduate students and postdocs at the University of Maryland. He loved skiing, swimming, biking, mountaineering, and climbing; his apple pies and slide shows of his advertures will be remembered fondly by many.

It would be inappropriate to write about Jim Klavetter without placing special emphasis on his love for his dogs, Athabasca and Reudi, and later, in Sacramento, Pingora. Jim's dogs accompanied him everywhere, at work and at play. Jim joyously taught Athabasca to press the handicap button to open the door so she could let herself out, and he taught Reudi, part doberman and part something-else-big, to jump into his arms like a child. To those who knew him and to many who only saw him around campus, he will be remembered fondly by his self-appointed moniker: "the guy with the dogs." Athabasca is pictured with her friend Jim.

Photo (available in PDF version): James Klavetter with Athabasca (courtesy Susan Hoban).

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