The world lost a great early lunar scientist last week. Ewen Whitaker, one of the world’s most renowned lunar specialists, has died at age 94.

Born in London on June 22, 1922, Whitaker became a member and then leader of the Lunar Section of the British Astronomical Association during the 1940s. In 1949 he was hired as an astronomer at Greenwich Observatory, and his skill at lunar photography came to the attention of Gerard Kuiper, the director of Yerkes Observatory. Kuiper recruited Whitaker to help create a series of lunar atlases for scientific study and mission planning for what became the Apollo program.

Whitaker used the Yerkes Observatory 40-inch and the McDonald Observatory 82-inch telescopes to acquire hundreds of lunar images that made up the Photographic Lunar Atlas, published in 1960. Whitaker followed Kuiper to the University of Arizona and became one of the founding members of the school’s famed Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. Once there, he helped acquire excellent lunar images with LPL’s new 61-inch telescope, and he supervised the printing of thousands of actual photographic prints that comprised the Consolidated Lunar Atlas. Originally published in 1967, it can now be accessed digitally via the Lunar and Planetary Institute.

In working with high-quality lunar photographs, Whitaker became aware of deficiencies of lunar nomenclature, which was largely based on hand-drawn maps from the 19th century. Whitaker produced some of the most detailed (and inspiring) images of lunar color– before digital detectors. Using his exceptional expertise with photographic techniques, which are notorious for being highly nonlinear, he created ‘color difference’ composite prints of the lunar nearside. In these photos, he recognized several distinctly ‘blue’ maria which might be Ti-rich, as well as the continually fascinating local “red spots”. His ‘color difference’ photos were not really replaced until CCDs came along, although temperamental vidicon multispectral images came close. (You can read his write-up on this in: Whitaker, E. A. (1972) Lunar color boundaries and their relationship to topographic features: A preliminary survey. The Moon 4, 348-355.)

Whitaker also conducted a number of scientific studies including calculating the orbital characteristic of the Uranian satellite Miranda, determining the date of Galileo’s first lunar observations, recognizing a putative giant impact basin encompassing half of the lunar nearside, and providing a new hypothesis for the origin of lunar crater chains.

Read the rememberance by Chuck Wood on Sky and Telescope.

Posted by: Soderman/SSERVI staff
Source: SSERVI Teams and C. Wood

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