Alan Moorwood, 1945–2011

ESO’s first Emeritus Astronomer has passed away

20 June 2011

Dr. Alan Moorwood, the longest serving astronomer at ESO until his retirement in May 2010, died on Saturday 18 June 2011, after a short and incurable illness.

Alan Moorwood, born in May 1945, was educated in the United Kingdom. After a few years at ESA, he joined ESO as an infrared astronomer on 1 October 1978, when the Organisation was still based in Geneva. During an exemplary career at ESO, spanning more than three decades, Moorwood pioneered the development of infrared instrumentation for La Silla and co-authored the Very Large Telescope (VLT) instrumentation plan. He oversaw ESO’s entire instrumentation effort while at the same time maintaining a very active research programme resulting in nearly 400 publications, making him one of ESO’s most-cited astronomers. Moorwood’s research centred on using infrared imaging and spectroscopy obtained with space observatories and ground-based telescopes to understand star formation in galaxies, including the study of molecular hydrogen in starburst galaxies, the physics of active galactic nuclei and ultra-luminous infrared galaxies, and observations of high-redshift galaxies.

At ESO Moorwood was Head of Instrumentation from 2004 to 2008 and Director of Programmes from 2008 until his retirement in 2010. In the latter role he gave strategic guidance for the planning and implementation of the entire optical-infrared programme, and crucially influenced the design effort for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) and its instrumentation.

Further to his role at ESO, Moorwood generously served the scientific community. He was one of the driving figures behind the very successful series of international SPIE (society for optics and photonics) instrumentation conferences and organised a number of other conferences, including the influential October 2007 Workshop entitled Science with the VLT in the ELT era. The combination of an active and high-quality research programme and considerable contribution to ESO made him an esteemed role model. He acted as supervisor to numerous students many of whom have gone on to become well-known astronomers themselves. He was a founding member of the Senior Faculty at ESO, and held the first Emeritus Astronomer position in recognition of his tremendous achievements.

Over many years of devoted effort, Alan was a key contributor to ESO’s rise to its world-leading position in astronomy. Alan Moorwood will always be remembered as a person of the utmost dedication, commitment and professionalism.

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Portrait of Dr. Alan Moorwood (1945–2011)
Portrait of Dr. Alan Moorwood (1945–2011)