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Hugh Mitchell Johnson, prolific and wide-ranging researcher in optical, radio, and x-ray astronomy, died on 19 November 2016 at the Tudor Oaks Health Center in Muskego, Wisconsin. Born on 4 March 1923 in Des Moines, Iowa, to Mack and Gudrun Johnson, Hugh’s passion for astronomy began during early adolescence when he observed the total lunar eclipse of 15-16 July 1935. From an advertisement in an astronomy magazine, he purchased a manual, “The Homemade Telescope,” by W. F. Decker, on how to grind and mount telescope mirrors. As a teen, he built three telescopes, the last instrument of eight-inches aperture, and frequently sought advice about celestial observing from astronomers at nearby Drake University. A member of the regional astronomy club in Des Moines, Hugh published a number of articles before graduating from North High School in 1941, including a note on the Perseid meteor shower (Popular Astronomy, 1936); “A Map of Mercury in 1936-1938” (Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, 1939); and “North Temperate Belt Markings on Jupiter in 1940-41” (JRASC, 1941). In subsequent years, he was a frequent contributor to the JRASC.
After spending the years 1945 to 1947 in the U.S. Army Air Corps, where he served as a radio communications specialist and air traffic controller in the Philippines, Hugh earned his bachelor of arts degree in 1948 and bachelor of science degree in mathematics in 1949 from the University of Chicago. In 1953, he received his Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Chicago, completing the dissertation, “Spectrographic Observations of Galactic Emission Regions and Nebulae,” under the direction of Bengt Strömgren. He maintained an affiliation with Yerkes Observatory (1953-1960), while serving as Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa (1954-1959) and Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University’s Mount Stromlo Observatory (1958-1959). In 1960, he became Associate Professor and Associate Astronomer at the University of Arizona, and in 1962, Associate Scientist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. The following year, Hugh joined the scientific staff at Lockheed Missiles & Space Company, in Palo Alto, from which he retired in 1986. While at Lockheed, he served as a lecturer in the astronomy program at Stanford University (1971-1975, 1980-1982).
Among his most cited research papers are:
Hugh was a longtime member of the American Astronomical Society and a participant in its Harlow Shapley visiting lecturer program from 1960 to 1976.
Hugh met his future wife, Jeanette Ringstad, in 1949 at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, where she worked under Dr. Gerard P. Kuiper as a “computer” (the term still in use at the time to describe a computational assistant). They were married in Williams Bay on 28 July 1951. They were together over 63 years until Jeanette’s passing on 30 March 2015.
They travelled extensively to all parts of the world in the course of Hugh’s profession and then as tourists during their retirement years.
Although they did not have any children, they had a close relationship with Jeanette’s sister Margaret Reynolds and her family, including her husband Henry Reynolds, Jr. and their sons, grandchildren & great grandchildren.
Photo: Henry Reynolds III
Obituary written by: Henry Reynolds III (nephew), Alan Hirshfeld (University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth)
BAAS Citation: BAAS, 2018, 50, 003