Donald Edward Osterbrock

Donald Edward Osterbrock (July 13, 1924 – January 11, 2007) was an American astronomer, best known for his work on star formation and on the history of astronomy.[1]

Donald Edward Osterbrock
BornJuly 13, 1924
DiedJanuary 11, 2007 (aged 82)
NationalityUnited States
Alma materUniversity of Chicago
Known forstar formation
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorSubrahmanyan Chandrasekhar


Osterbrock was born in Cincinnati. His father was an electrical engineer. He served with the US Army in the Second World War, making weather observations in the Pacific.

He was educated at the University of Chicago, where he received bachelor's and master's degrees in physics and a PhD in astronomy in 1952. He was a student of Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar while working at University of Chicago's Yerkes Observatory. His work there with William Wilson Morgan and Stewart Sharpless showed the existence of the Milky Way's spiral arms.

He became a post-doctoral researcher, instructor and Assistant Professor at the California Institute of Technology until 1958. He was then appointed Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, received tenure there in 1959, and was promoted to full professor in 1961. He was a Guggenheim Fellow for the academic year 1960–1961.[2] In 1973 he moved from Madison to the University of California at Santa Cruz, as Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and Director of Lick Observatory, a position he held until 1981. He remained on the faculty at UC Santa Cruz until his retirement in 1993. Thereafter, Emeritus Professor Osterbrock continued to make daily trips to his office on campus, to work on his research, to keep publishing, and to maintain an active role in the astronomical community.

At the time of his death he had authored 12 monographs on astronomy and the history of astronomy, including, in 1989 the influential textbook Astrophysics of Gaseous Nebulae and Active Galactic Nuclei, and the recently updated and revised 2nd edition (2006) written along with Gary Ferland of the University of Kentucky. Alongside his more than 150 articles on astronomy and astrophysics, he published 70 historical studies, biographical memoirs, and obituaries of major figures in nineteenth and twentieth century astronomy, and numerous book reviews.

Osterbrock's research included work on the nature of ionized gases around hot stars and studying active galactic nuclei powered by black holes.

Osterbrock received lifetime achievement awards from the American Astronomical Society and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. He was President of the American Astronomical Society from 1988 to 1990.

He died following a heart attack. He was survived by his wife of 54 years, Irene Hansen, and their son and two daughters.



  • University of Chicago Alumni Association Professional Achievement Award (1982)
  • University Center Distinguished Scholar in Physics and Astronomy, Atlanta, Georgia (1990)
  • Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal, Astronomical Society of the Pacific (1991)
  • Gold Medal, Royal Astronomical Society (1997)
  • Antoinette de Vancouleurs Memorial Lectureship and Medal, University of Texas (1994)
  • Hans Lippershey Medal, Antique Telescope Society (1998)
  • University of Chicago Alumni Medal (2000)
  • Leroy E. Doggett Prize for Historical Astronomy, Historical Astronomy Division, American Astronomical Society (2002)

Named after him

Honorary degrees


  1. ^ O'Dell, Robert C.; Sheehan, William P. (April 2007). "Obituary: Donald Edward Osterbrock". Physics Today. 60 (4): 79–80. Bibcode:2007PhT....60d..79O. doi:10.1063/1.2731990.
  2. ^ Donald E. Osterbrock – John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Archived November 3, 2013, at the Wayback Machine

External links

American Astronomical Society

The American Astronomical Society (AAS, sometimes spoken as "double-A-S") is an American society of professional astronomers and other interested individuals, headquartered in Washington, DC. The primary objective of the AAS is to promote the advancement of astronomy and closely related branches of science, while the secondary purpose includes enhancing astronomy education and providing a political voice for its members through lobbying and grassroots activities. Its current mission is to enhance and share humanity's scientific understanding of the universe.

Deaths in January 2007

The following is a list of notable deaths in January 2007.

Gael Garcia died

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List of Ohio University alumni

Ohio University is a major public university located in the Midwestern United States in Athens, Ohio, situated on an 1,800-acre (7.3 km2) campus. Founded in 1804, it is the oldest university in the Northwest Territory and ninth oldest public university in the United States. Ohio University has 197,000 living alumni, of whom approximately 105,000 stay in the state. Many have gone on to achieve success in a variety of fields, including athletics, journalism, and government.

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar ( (listen); 19 October 1910 – 21 August 1995) was an Indian American astrophysicist who spent his professional life in the United States. He was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize for Physics with William A. Fowler for "...theoretical studies of the physical processes of importance to the structure and evolution of the stars". His mathematical treatment of stellar evolution yielded many of the current theoretical models of the later evolutionary stages of massive stars and black holes. The Chandrasekhar limit is named after him.

Chandrasekhar worked on a wide variety of physical problems in his lifetime, contributing to the contemporary understanding of stellar structure, white dwarfs, stellar dynamics, stochastic process, radiative transfer, the quantum theory of the hydrogen anion, hydrodynamic and hydromagnetic stability, turbulence, equilibrium and the stability of ellipsoidal figures of equilibrium, general relativity, mathematical theory of black holes and theory of colliding gravitational waves. At the University of Cambridge, he developed a theoretical model explaining the structure of white dwarf stars that took into account the relativistic variation of mass with the velocities of electrons that comprise their degenerate matter. He showed that the mass of a white dwarf could not exceed 1.44 times that of the Sun – the Chandrasekhar limit. Chandrasekhar revised the models of stellar dynamics first outlined by Jan Oort and others by considering the effects of fluctuating gravitational fields within the Milky Way on stars rotating about the galactic centre. His solution to this complex dynamical problem involved a set of twenty partial differential equations, describing a new quantity he termed 'dynamical friction', which has the dual effects of decelerating the star and helping to stabilize clusters of stars. Chandrasekhar extended this analysis to the interstellar medium, showing that clouds of galactic gas and dust are distributed very unevenly.

Chandrasekhar studied at Presidency College, Madras (now Chennai) and the University of Cambridge. A long-time professor at the University of Chicago, he did some of his studies at the Yerkes Observatory, and served as editor of The Astrophysical Journal from 1952 to 1971. He was on the faculty at Chicago from 1937 until his death in 1995 at the age of 84, and was the Morton D. Hull Distinguished Service Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics.

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