ASP Announces its 2010 Award Winners in Astronomy Research and Education

2 April 2010

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) today announces the winners of its 2010 awards for excellence in astronomy research and education.

The Maria and Eric Muhlmann Award is given annually to recognize recent significant observational results made possible by innovative advances in astronomical instrumentation and techniques. The 2010 winner of the award is the Spitzer Space Telescope Team. The Spitzer Space Telescope is one of NASA's "Great Observatories," making its observations in the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, which requires the telescope to be cooled to the very low temperatures needed to detect infrared radiation without interference from the heat produced by the spacecraft itself. The telescope must also be shielded from the heat of the sun and the infrared radiation put out by the Earth. Among the innovative engineering approaches for which the team is being recognized is the extensive use of radiative cooling that extended the cryogenic lifetime of the telescope from the planned nominal mission of two and half years to nearly six before the liquid helium coolant was exhausted.

Spitzer is presently in its "Warm Mission," continuing to return scientific data using two infrared channels able to operate without coolant. The scientific impact of the mission ranges from measurements of the size and density of Kuiper Belt Objects to the first detection of light from extrasolar planets to the identification of massive, mature galaxies at very remote distances that place constraints on the growth of fluctuations in the early universe. The team's contributions to the ongoing success of the mission are recognized with the Muhlmann Award.

The Robert J. Trumpler Award for outstanding recent Ph.D. thesis is awarded to Dr. Robert Quimby, currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Astronomy at Caltech. Through his technical innovation and use of the ROTSE-IIIb and Hobby-Eberly telescopes at McDonald Observatory, Dr. Quimby initiated the Texas Supernova Search to monitor nearby galaxy clusters for transient events at their earliest possible phases. His University of Texas dissertation led to improved understanding of the detonation process in Type IA supernovae, suggesting that these events may involve binary white dwarf systems. He also discovered the first "pair instability supernova" – a phenomenon now thought to occur in very massive stars like those that formed at the end of the cosmological "dark ages," when the universe's first stars and galaxies condensed out of matter.

The Richard H. Emmons Award for excellence in the teaching of college-level introductory astronomy for non-science majors goes to Dr. Alex Filippenko of the University of California at Berkeley. Filippenko, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor in the Physical Sciences, and well-known for his research on supernovas, gamma-ray bursts, black holes, quasars and dark energy, is also a popular teacher of the introductory astronomy class for non-science majors. He has produced four astronomy video courses with The Teaching Company and coauthored an award-winning textbook. Students have voted him as the "Best Professor" six times, and he has won numerous national and societal awards for his undergraduate teaching—to which he now adds the ASP's Emmons prize.

The Thomas J. Brennan Award for excellence in the teaching of astronomy at the high school level is awarded to John Blackwell. Blackwell teaches astronomy at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where he also uses facilities of the Grainger Observatory to teach students how to observe celestial objects and conduct investigations and measurements. The research projects undertaken by Blackwell's students include using CCD images to find asteroids, constructing H-R diagrams of open clusters and light curves of variable stars, searching for supernovae by repeated imaging of galaxy rich fields with a robotic telescope, and conducting observing runs at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Blackwell's colleagues at Phillips Exeter refer to him as a "pied piper when it comes to sparking the interest of students in the field of astronomy."

This year's Klumpke-Roberts Award for outstanding contributions to the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy honors Marcia Bartusiak. For three decades, Bartusiak has written prolifically in the field of physics and astronomy, offering insight into complex topics and the lives of the scientists who explore them. Currently an adjunct professor with the graduate program in science writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a columnist for Natural History magazine, she regularly publishes in a variety of national publications and is the author of five books. Her most recent, Archives of the Universe, chronicles the 100 biggest discoveries in astronomy, through primary source material, from Archimedes to the accelerating universe.

The Amateur Achievement Award recognizes significant observational or technical contributions by an amateur astronomer. This year's recipient isAllan Rahill on behalf of the Clear Sky Chart team comprising of Rahill and Attilla Danko. Rahill, a meteorologist with the Canadian Meteorological Centre (CMC), adapted CMC forecast products for the purpose of planning observing sessions with highly accurate high resolution point forecasts of cloud cover, transparency, seeing, darkness, wind, temperature and humidity over North and Central America. Danko developed the web page that presents these forecasts. The universal acclaim received by the Clear Sky Charts in both the amateur and professional astronomy communities wins the team the Amateur Achievement prize for 2010.

The Las Cumbres Amateur Outreach Award, honoring outstanding educational outreach by an amateur astronomer to K-12 children and the public, goes to Wayne "Skip" Bird. For more than 15 years, Bird—treasurer and observatory coordinator for the Westminster Astronomical Society serving Carroll County, Maryland—has engaged kids and the public in astronomy outreach programs for Girl and Boy Scout troops, nature centers, libraries, fairs, kids camps, and at other venues. He has worked with the National Federation of the Blind to present astronomy activities for sight-impaired youth, and was the driving force behind the Westminster Astronomical Society's observatory project. Colleagues cite Byrd as a primary reason for Westminster's reputation as one of the most active astronomy clubs in public outreach in the nation.

The ASP previously announced Dr. Gerry Neugebauer of Caltech and the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory as the 2010 recipient of theCatherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal for lifetime achievement in astronomy. Neugebauer is widely recognized as one of the pioneers of infrared astronomy, working with colleagues to make the first infrared map of the galactic center, the first infrared survey of the sky, and leading the science team of the Infrared Astronomy Satellite (IRAS) that mapped the sky in four different wavelengths, cataloguing thousands of sources and revolutionizing infrared astronomy.

"This year's award winners demonstrate how much can be and is being accomplished by talented, motivated individuals and teams dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and the sharing of that knowledge with the larger public," said James Manning, ASP Executive Director. "The ASP is proud to recognize the achievements of these astronomy researchers, educators, and popularizers with the hope that they will inspire others to their best efforts."

The awards will be presented at the ASP awards banquet on August 3 in Boulder, Colorado, as part of the Society's annual meeting. Information about the ASP can be found online at More information about the Society's awards and past winners can be found at

Founded in 1889 in San Francisco, the ASP's mission is to increase the understanding and appreciation of astronomy by engaging scientists, educators, enthusiasts and the public to advance science and science literacy. The ASP publishes both scholarly and educational materials, conducts professional development programs for formal and informal educators, and holds conferences, symposia and workshops for astronomers and educators specializing in education and public outreach. The ASP's education programs are funded by corporations, private foundations, the National Science Foundation, NASA, private donors, and its own members.

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The International Year of Astronomy 2009 is endorsed by the United Nations and the International Council of Science.