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Wieslaw Z. Wisniewski (1931–1994)

Published onSep 01, 1994
Wieslaw Z. Wisniewski (1931–1994)

Dr. Wieslaw Z. Wisniewski of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona died suddenly and unexpectedly on February 28, 1994 at 62 years of age. He is survived by his wife and adult son who both live in Tucson. Born on May 2, 1931 in Poland, Wisniewski endured many hardships while surviving the Nazi occupation of Poland as a young boy, and later during the communist regime there.

In 1951 he began working as a High School Mathematics teacher. In 1952 he received an M.A. in Astronomy from Poznan University in Poland. Wisniewski then joined the staff at the Cracow Observatory at the Jagiellonian University as a Research Assistant in 1953, advancing through the ranks to Lecturer in 1954. From 1957 to 1959, he participated as a Scientist of the International Geophysical Year Expedition to Spitsbergen. He returned to the Cracow Observatory staff as a Senior Lecturer in 1959. During a leave of absence from the Cracow Observatory, starting in 1963, Wisniewski joined the staff at the recently established Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona as a Research Associate, becoming an Assistant Professor in 1965. In 1967, he returned to the Cracow Observatory as an Assistant Professor before returning to the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in 1971 where he remained for the rest of his career. He was a member of the American Astronomical Society, the Polish Astronomical Society, the Royal Astronomical Society, and the International Astronomical Union.

Wisniewski's scientific research interests during his lifetime were varied. His earliest works, between 1954 and 1956 were computing predictions for the occultations of stars by the Moon, published in the Cracow International Almanac. In 1957, he published work on the orbit of comet Harrington (1951k) in the I.A.U. Circulars. His work in the IGY Expedition to Spitsbergen resulted in a paper on the radioactive fallout there. Also resulting from this expedition was a paper on aurora observations from Spitsbergen. In 1964, Wisniewski confirmed that comets Harrington (1952 II) and Wolf (1925 I) were identical by computing the perturbations of the 1952 II elements back to 1925. The comet was subsequently renamed P/Wolf-Harrington.

Upon his arrival at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, he began work with Harold Johnson, observing often with a 28 inch telescope near Mount Bigelow in the Santa Catalina mountains north of Tucson. The landmark study of over 5000 bright stars in UBV and some stars in as many as 8 wavelengths was published in 1966. During the course of this work, observations were obtained for many other interesting objects, including observations of Seyfert Galaxies, RR Lyrae stars, and supernovae. His expertise and reputation as an observer became well known to his colleagues during this time.

Wisniewski's interests in the Solar System began to re-emerge when he participated in some observations of comet Kohoutek and later of minor planets. He collaborated with T. Faÿ in the first study of the nucleus of a comet, examining the light curve of P/d'Arrest in 1978. Most recently, he worked on the light curve and taxonomic observation of small solar system bodies, especially the near-Earth asteroids and comets, providing light curve observations of hundreds of asteroids and multi-color photometry of many others. He often participated in global campaigns to observe a particular object, the best examples being the campaigns to observe (951) Gaspra and (243) Ida which were both visited by the Galileo spacecraft as it made its way to Jupiter. He was able to obtain one of the early images of comet P/Shoemaker-Levy 9 a few nights after its discovery and was very much involved in the excitement of observing and learning about this unique comet. He would have been part of a global network of observers from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory making optical coronographic observations and he would have been very pleased and thrilled by all the surprises that comet provided as it plunged into Jupiter this past July.

In his later years, Wisniewski spent a great deal of time at the telescope making single channel photometric observations of various objects and more recently began using CCD detectors in his work. Most of his recent observations were made using the 60 inch telescope at Mt. Lemmon near Tucson, the 61 inch telescope at Mt. Bigelow, and the 90 inch telescope at Kitt Peak, all of the Steward Observatory. He also traveled to the southern hemisphere, especially to Cerro Tololo. Always one on the lookout for humor in the world around him, shortly after learning of the impending impact of P/Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter, he found the following quote in a book review: " … the astronomer Jérôme Lalande was arrested in 1773 for a breach of the peace, when he alarmed the French public with a prediction of a cometary collision." That was Wieslaw's way of warning colleagues to take care in their dealings with the public as the impact time approached.

Wieslaw was a dear friend to all those around him. His wit, wisdom, and willingness to help and encourage those around him will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

For a complete bibliographical listing of Dr. Wisniewski's work, contact the author at the address below. A second obituary will appear in Icarus.

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