We are very saddened to hear of the death of Professor John Brown, Astronomer Royal for Scotland.
John had visited Lewis several times over the years, doing astronomy talks, and educational work and supporting Gallan Head Community Trust in its plans to build an observatory in Aird Uig. In February of this year he was a guest of honour at the first ever Hebridean Dark Skies Festival, introducing its Opening Gala, Wunder Der Schopfung, a film soundtrack performance featuring his musician son Stuart Brown. John was also a significant source of support and advice as the programme for the festival came together, with lots of helpful suggestions for guests and subjects to explore.
John was to have made a second appearance at the Hebridean Dark Skies Festival this coming February, again as part of the opening weekend. A decision will be made in the coming weeks as to how this gap can be filled and how the festival can best pay tribute to John.
John was the tenth Astronomer Royal for Scotland and had been in the post since he was appointed by the Queen in 1995. While the title was an honorary one he was very active in the role, promoting astronomy in the public eye and in education, through lectures and planetarium shows throughout the UK, much of it via amateur astronomical societies. He was involved in the launch of several new planetaria in the UK, including in Glasgow, Birmingham, and Newcastle. Professor Mike Cruise, President of the Royal Astronomical Society, described him this week as “a tireless public speaker, often visiting remote communities to inspire them with the latest research results and broader historical perspectives on our knowledge of the universe”.
As an astronomer John’s main research interests were high energy radiation from the sun, mass loss from hot stars and mathematical inverse problems. He also had a passion for the arts and for magic, both of which were to have fed into his An Lanntair event next February, which was to include magic tricks as well as extracts from Oor Big Braw Cosmos, a new book he had created in collaboration with the poet Rab Wilson.
Our thoughts are with John’s family and friends.