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Adair P. Lane (1949 - 2017)

Adair Lane died on Monday the 6th of February 2017.

Adair Payson Lane, 68, a researcher with wide-ranging interests in stellar and interstellar astronomy, died at her home in Centerville, MA, on 6 February 2017. Born on 27 January 1949, Lane graduated in 1970 from Wellesley College with a B.A. in psychology and was hired as a research technician at UMass Amherst. Reshaping her career aspirations, she enrolled in the UMass graduate program, earning Masters degrees in physics and astronomy in 1976 and 1978, respectively. She completed her Ph.D. in the area of radio astronomy in 1982, with the thesis "Observations of Silicon Monoxide Masers in the Circumstellar Envelopes of Late Type Stars," under the supervision of Prof. Joseph Taylor.

When asked for his impressions of his former student, Taylor replied that “Adair Lane was an unusual and remarkable student in the UMass Physics and Astronomy Department, making the transition from an undergraduate major in psychology to a graduate degree in Astronomy. Her Ph.D. thesis was one of the first substantial pieces of work using the then-new 14-meter radio telescope of the Five College Radio Astronomy Observatory. In it she investigated the properties of silicon monoxide masers associated with certain highly evolved long-period variable stars. Her work was largely self-motivated; as her supervisor I found it best to help her gain access to the tools and facilities she needed, and then let her proceed mostly on her own. She went on to have a productive career in astronomy, and she will be sorely missed.” Adair Lane held positions at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (1982-1985), Boston University (Assistant Professor, 1985-1992), and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. While at the Center for Astrophysics, from September 1991 to August 2007, she served as project manager of the Antarctic Submillimeter Telescope and Remote Observatory (AST/RO), traveling twice to Antarctica during that period. She presented the first results from the 1.7-meter diameter AST/RO telescope at the American Astronomical Society meeting in San Antonio, TX, in 1996, and gave frequent research updates in the ensuing years. She was a member of the  International Astronomical Union Working Group for the Development of Antarctic Astronomy.

Over her career, Lane authored or co-authored more than 100 articles and abstracts on planetary science, stellar masers, and the interstellar medium. Her early paper, with William Irvine, on the lunar albedo continues to be cited in current publications (Astronomical Journal, 78 (1973): 267-277). Prof. John Bally, at the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder, contributed these recollections of his own research collaboration with Adair Lane:

“I worked with Adair in the late 1970s and early 1980s on some of the first observations of 2 micro-meter wavelength emission from shock-excited molecular hydrogen powered by protostellar outflows, using the Kitt Peak and Cerro Tololo telescopes. At the time, our “camera” consisted of a single pixel InSb detector, an aperture wheel, a circular-variable filter (CVF) with a 1% bandpass, and a Princeton Applied Research lock-in amplifier that locked onto the on-source minus off-source signal produced by a chopping (or more appropriately, wobbling) secondary mirror on the telescope.  

We were proud to make some of the first ‘maps’ of the molecular hydrogen objects (MHOs); they contained from a few to a few dozen points obtained by measuring the flux at the wavelength of the 2.12 um H2 S(1) line, and differencing it with the average of two-measurements obtained on either side of the H2 emission line. Though primitive by today’s standards (we now use IR cameras with many mega-pixels), our work resulted in the recognition that shock-excited H2 emission from protostellar outflows was common.

During the mid-1980s, we gained access to the first generation (58 by 62 pixel) InSb imaging arrays. Adair and I made the first observations of Orion’s “fingers” of shock excited H2 emission (see Bally, et al. Astronomy & Astrophysics, 579 (2015): A130 and arXiv:1701.01906 for a modern view) and discovered H2 in the spectacular L1448 protostellar jet from Kitt Peak. 

During that particular observing run, we also found the elusive and highly-embedded protostar that powers Herbig-Haro (HH) objects 1 and 2. Discovered by George Herbig and Guillermo Haro between 1949 and 1951, HH 1/2 provided one of the first hints that forming stars create powerful, collimated outflows. Its driving source had been sought after for decades. We also obtained the first H2 images of the prototypical HH 46/47 jet from Cerro Tololo in Chile. Unfortunately, we never published our Orion, HH 1/2, and HH46/47 results. Because of the primitive state of data reduction tools at that time, we were unable to convert our raw digital data into a form we considered acceptable for the Astrophysical Journal. Adair was a stickler for perfection and accuracy.”

In conclusion, Bally writes, “Adair was one of the first female observational astronomers I knew. And as such, she was both a pioneer, and a role model.”

Harvard-Smithsonian, CfA
Obituary Written By: 
Bill Irvine (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), John Bally (University of Colorado, Boulder), Alan Hirshfeld (University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth)
BAAS: BAAS, 2017, 49, 006