Happy farming John

October 10, 2010

I heard from CfA colleagues that John Huchra died on Friday, a horrible shock. Sean has already written about him over at Cosmic Variance, and his Wikipedia page has already been updated. The world moves fast these days. Here is John’s home page, where you can read about his work in his own words.

I last saw John just over a year ago, playing volleyball with my kids in Aspen along with other wide field survey notables. Still had his glasses on I think. Many years before that (1982ish), I was grateful to John for teaching me much of my optical observing skills. I was in process of converting from X-ray astronomer to optical astronomer, and together with John and Martin Elvis we were getting CCD images of Seyfert galaxies using the 24 inch at Mt Hopkins – a rather hands on telescope shall we say. A few things I remember from that first “proper astronomy” experience :

  • The TV acquisition camera had a weird dead patch somewhere near the middle. I asked John what this was. “Jupiter” he said.
  • Adjusting something in the dome, I asked John to pass the torch but he was too consumed with mirth to do so. Seems I should have said “flashlight”, as to Americans “torch” conjures up images of villagers chasing Frankenstein’s monster.
  • Apparently SAO should have consulted the local Indians. Mount Hopkins was always known to them as “Old Cloudy Top”
  • In the afternoon, if there was ANY sign of cloud, John would say “looks like we bought the farm Andy”. The fourth time he said this I asked him to explain. It comes from The War. Soldier buddies would sit around together, missing their folks, and say things like “When I get home, I’m going to buy me a little farm”. When someone was shot, and dying in his buddy’s arms, he would look up and whisper “Hey, Joe, looks like I finally bought that farm”

So, John, look after that farm. Its pumpkin season.