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Leonard J. Martin (1930–1997)

Published onJan 01, 1997
Leonard J. Martin (1930–1997)

Leonard J. Martin, long-time staff member of the Lowell Observatory and noted Mars observer, died suddenly on 7 April 1997 at his home in Bend, Oregon. He is survived by his wife Claudia; sons Chris and Nick, and daughter Jennifer.

Leonard was born on 10 March 1930 in Seattle Washington. He attended Washington State University in Pullman for two years and then transferred to the University of Washington, where he earned a degree in geography with a specialization in cartography. Following a stint in the U.S. Army, Leonard joined the staff of the Aeronautical Chart and Information Center (ACIC) in St. Louis. In 1963, he came to Lowell Observatory as a member of the ACIC team charged with preparing maps of the Moon in preparation for the Apollo Missions. When that job was completed in 1967, Leonard transferred to the Lowell staff and began work on a Mars cloud survey under the direction of William Baum. In the course of this investigation, he developed a passion for the Red Planet that continued undiminished through the remainder of his scientific career.

In 1969, Leonard continued his study of Mars as an International Planetary Patrol observer and data analyst. The Patrol, which was organized and operated by Lowell Observatory, under a NASA grant, consisted of a global network of similarly-equipped telescopes photographing Mars, Jupiter, and sometimes Venus and Saturn on a coordinated hourly schedule. Patrol photographs provided the basis for a number of investigations of Martian phenomena, which Martin undertook independently or in collaboration with Baum and others. Martian clouds, dust storms, and the advance and recession of the polar caps were of particular interest to Leonard, and, over the years, he developed an encyclopedic knowledge of Mars' historical photographic record. His papers on the dust storms of 1971 (which interfered with the Mariner 9 mission) and 1973 were particularly important.

Beginning about 1976, Martin became involved with Baum, Karl Lumme, and others in investigations of Mars based on data from the Viking orbiter. Subsequently, his collaborations expanded to include work with Phil James, Rich Zurek, Steve Lee, and others. He was a member of a team headed by James which used the Hubble Space Telescope in a number of Martian imaging investigations. Through all of this time, Leonard maintained a firm belief in the importance of continued synoptic imaging of Mars from the ground to provide the long-term context essential to full interpretation of the higher resolution space-based imaging. For many years, he championed the continuation of a barebones planetary patrol, and, in spite of an increasingly difficult battle with heart disease, made many observations himself using telescopes at Lowell and on Mauna Kea.

Leonard Martin was a meticulous and cautious student of Mars. He was slow to jump to conclusions and careful to place current observations within the context of the historical record. He was a pleasant and considerate colleague who put forward his views in a quiet, if persistent, manner. Leonard was in a sense a disciple of E.C. Slipher and, to a degree, Percival Lowell. He believed Mars could best be understood through long and careful observation, looking for patterns, cycles, and other manifestations which could be securely interpreted in terms of physical phenomena. As such, he provided a link to the heritage of this institution. He will be missed.

Photo (available in PDF version) courtesy Robert Millis, Lowell Observatory.

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