Jay Pasachoff, astronomer and specialist in solar eclipses, dies at 79

Astronomer Jay Pasakov, who traveled the world for more than 50 years, witnessed 74 solar eclipses, and was one of the world’s leading experts on observing these celestial objects, has died at the age of 79.

Field Pasakov, his Memorial Professor of Astronomy and director of the Hopkins Observatory at his College Williams, died Sunday (November 20) at his home in Williamstown, Massachusetts. His wife Naomi Pasakov identified lung cancer as the cause of death.

In 2010, Pasakov wrote of his passion for eclipses: Those of us who have stood in the shadow of the Moon during an eclipse are moved over and over again as the Moon moves between the Earth and the Sun. ”

Pasachoff earned his doctorate in 1969 with his thesis entitled “Fine Structure of the Solar Chromosphere” and made an incredible achievement in identifying the best viewing locations for solar eclipses. This involved calculating where the clearest sky was available to observe the entire phase of the eclipse. Due to his familiarity with meteorological data, Pasakov became known for his accurate weather forecasts.

Pasakov observed his first solar eclipse on November 1, 1959. In a 2010 New York Times article, an astronomer described the event from his records as follows: As the full moon obscured the sun and the sky darkened to black, the sun’s corona surrounded the moon in white. I was addicted.”

Born in New York City on July 1, 1943, Pasakov’s passion for astronomy began at an early age with trips to Hayden’s planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. Pasakov began building his telescope while attending the Bronx High School of Science. After graduating in 1959 at the age of 16, Pasakov attended Harvard University. There he took a course in astronomy under Donald He Menzel, one of the first theoretical astronomers and astrophysicists in the United States, and an expert on solar eclipses.

Pasachoff received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from Harvard University in 1963, 1965 and 1969 respectively. Pasakov did postdoctoral research at the Harvard Observatory in 1969 and then got a job at Caltech before transferring to Williams College in 1972.

He spent the next half-century chasing eclipses around the world, but his passion never waned. “Every time we go to Game 7 of the World Series, it’s like getting tied in the ninth,” he told Fox News in 2016. However, the eclipse does not represent all of Pasakov’s work on the Sun. Astronomers have studied the sun’s outer atmosphere, the so-called corona, which is fully visible only during a solar eclipse. (The corona is washed out by light from the layers below and is visible only when the Moon blocks the Sun’s disk.)

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  • Jay Pasachoff, astronomer and specialist in solar eclipses, dies at 79
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