Jay Pasachoff, globetrotting solar eclipse expert, dies at age 79

Jay Pasachoff, a solar astronomer who witnessed 74 solar eclipses over the course of his life, died at his home in Williamstown, Massachusetts, on Sunday, Nov. 21. He was 79 years old.

Pasachoff was Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Hopkins Observatory at Williams College. He was not only known for his expert knowledge of eclipses, but also for his valuable weather predictions. By combing through available data such as weather almanacs, Pasachoff had an impressive track record for identifying the best eclipse viewing sites based on how likely they were to host clear skies during totality.

“Jay Pasachoff was a towering figure in the astronomical community. Besides his scientific achievements, Jay was an exemplar in promoting citizen science and selfless with his time,” Michael Zeiler, a maker of eclipse maps, tells Astronomy. “What I will miss most about Jay is his humanity and infectious enthusiasm about sharing the splendor of total solar eclipses.”

An early start in astronomy

Born July 1, 1943, in Manhattan, Pasachoff’s mother was a teacher, while his father was a surgeon who later served in the Army Medical Corps during World War II.

Pasachoff’s interest in astronomy developed at a young age. After moving to the Bronx, Pasachoff would take trips to the Hayden Planetarium. And as a high schooler, he would begin tinkering with building telescopes.

Then, as a freshman at Harvard (at age 16), Pasachoff took an astronomy course taught by solar eclipse expert Donald Menzel. Pasachoff witnessed his first total solar eclipse just a few weeks later, when Menzel secured access to a plane to let his student’s experience totality from the sky.

Within a decade, Pasachoff earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard. And over the next 50 years, he made every effort to ensure he could view more than 70 solar eclipses.

A half-century of eclipses

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