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Jerome Kristian (1933–1996)

Published onJan 01, 1997
Jerome Kristian (1933–1996)

Jerome Kristian (called Jerry, by his friends) was born 5 June 1933, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and died 22 June 1996 in an ultralight airplane accident. He attended the University of Chicago, obtaining MS and PhD degrees (Physics), the latter in 1962 with a thesis on "Hydromagnetic Equilibrium of a Fluid Sphere," supervised by S. Chandrasekhar and published in three Astrophysical Journal papers in 1963-64. While at the University of Texas (1962-64) as an instructor, Kristian collaborated with R. K. Sachs in the preparation of the fundamental paper "Observations in Cosmology" (ApJ 1143, 379, 1966).

Following a short period (1966-67) at the University of Wisconsin as an Assistant Professor, Jerry went to the Mount Wilson Observatory, first as a Carnegie Fellow and later as a full staff member (1968-96). Up to his arrival at Mt. Wilson, Jerry's work had been largely theoretical, but his new environment, among observers and with large telescopes at his reach, quickly changed his interests to observational questions, as shown by some 40 entries in his bibliography for the late 1960's and early 1970's. Much of his work in this period was concerned with the optical identification of X-ray and radio sources, pulsars and quasars. As a result of this background and a general interest in extragalactic research, Kristian co-edited (with A. and M. Sandage), Volume IX, Galaxies and the Universe, of the compendium Stars and Stellar Systems (1975). A very important aspect of Jerry's activities in that period was his collaboration with James A. Westphal in experiments related to the use of S-T (silicon target) and SIT (intensified silicon target) detectors at the telescope. A number of pioneering discoveries, including evidence for super-massive objects in galactic nuclei, resulted from observations carried out with these and with CCD detectors (e.g., Young, Westphal, Kristian, Wilson, and Landauer, ApJ 221, 721, 1978). The great importance of the work on panoramic detectors by Westphal and Kristian becomes more apparent when it is considered that they were undertaken as part of planning for the Large Space Telescope beginning in 1974.

After joining the Planetary Camera Team of the LST (later, of course, HST) with Westphal as Principal Investigator, Kristian became deeply involved in planning of future observations. He nevertheless maintained an active schedule of ground based observations, evidenced by his publications related to super-massive objects in the centers of galaxies and to gravitational lenses. A number of preliminary HST results in these two fields have been published with Kristian's participation, but undoubtedly many definitive publications in these and other fields were in preparation at the time of Jerry's untimely death. It should be expected that his HST team co-workers will keep his name in print for a long time to come.

In conclusion, an anecdotal reference to Jerry's sense of humor will be recalled. Sometime in 1969, after I mentioned to him that one of my 18th century ancestors was a full blood Mayan Indian, he mentioned having Cherokee heritage, to which he traced his darkish complexion. At the time, I did not inquire further about the matter, but when I recently asked his son, John M. Kristian, whether he could verify this ancestry, he answered "He was pulling your leg when he spoke of being part Indian." John gave me a further example of Jerry's sense of humor which appears in his High School yearbook: he listed his hometown as "Brewburg" rather than Milwaukee.

Photo (available in PDF version) courtesy The Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.


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