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Timothy Hawarden (1943 - 2009)

Timothy Hawarden died on Sunday the 15th of November 2009.

British astronomy lost one of its most respected and liked members with the sudden death of Dr Timothy (Tim) Hawarden. Hawarden was one of those people who changed his wavelength and discipline as the emerging challenges of astronomy dictated, and was successful in all of his ventures. He experienced a huge breadth of achievement; moving from photographic plates, through electronic detectors to infrared astronomy from the ground and subsequently from space. He was an acknowledged leader in his fields around the world and, in addition to his professional accomplishments, he was a keen practitioner of culinary technique. His bouillabaisse was legendary. In his later years he was a source of inspiration for young children in his outreach work.

Tim Hawarden began his career as an optical astronomer in South Africa.  He graduated from the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg in 1966 with a BSc in Physics and Applied Mathematics, followed by an MSc in Astronomy from the University of Cape Town in 1970 and a PhD in 1975.  Hawarden’s early years were formed by learning the precise art of photometry from the legendary Cousins, and this focus on precision has stood him in good stead throughout his career.

He then moved Australia in 1975, where he spent three years as Deputy Astronomer-in-Charge of the UK Schmidt Telescope, from where he moved to the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, where he remained for the rest of his career.  Hawarden rapidly moved into the newly emerging field of infrared astronomy.  His research moved from stars and stellar clusters to barred spiral galaxies and he was keen to employ the new tools coming on-line to pursue this work.  The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (KIRT) was the world’s premier facility and Tim Hawarden became the Head of the unit at the ROE in 1981, a post he held for the next six years, overseeing a range of developments that have stood the test of time and have provided the platform on which UKIRT has retained its world-class standing right through to this day.  He was posted to Hilo, Hawaii as a support astronomer in 1987.  He undertook a key role as Project Scientist for the UKIRT Upgrades Programme, which was a major undertaking that would transform the capability of the telescope and enable it to retain its cutting-edge competitiveness in spite of the emerging threat of the new breed of 8-10m ground-based telescope.  He returned to Edinburgh in 2001 where his next role was as the UK Project Scientist in leading efforts to seek out opportunities for the next generation of large ground-based telescopes. He continued in this role until his retirement in 2006.

The other key area of work for which Tim will be remembered world-wide is his contribution to infrared astronomy from space.  There are two strands to this; first as a Co-Investigator for the ISOCAM instrument for the European Infrared Space Observatory (ISO) and then for his work on Edison.  Although this failed to become a mission in its own right, there were huge and positive repercussions from the studies.  Tim Hawarden was the instigator of what became the norm for such missions in the future: passive radiation cooling, rather than relying solely on cryogens.  This was breakthrough stuff and although Hawarden met initial severe resistance from the engineering establishment, typically he persevered and showed through detailed calculation that his ideas were sound.  He soon gathered a strong following from fellow astronomers and eventually this idea was accepted and widely adopted.  Tim’s legacy can be seen in missions as diverse as the Herschel Telescope, launched in June 2009, through to the James Webb Space Telescope, the Hubble successor to be launched in 2014. In acknowledgement of his expertise in the space domain, he was personally appointed by the NASA Administrator to his blue-ribbon Advisory Working Group on Long-Term Plans for NASA Space Science. This was a huge accolade and shows the esteem in which Tim Hawarden was held, probably more so by his NASA colleagues than on the European scene.


Royal Observatory, Edinburgh

Obituary Written By: 
Ian Robson (Royal Observatory, Edinburgh)
BAAS: BAAS, 2011, 43, 013