John Huchra, 1948 – 2010

By Phil Plait | October 10, 2010 4:01 pm

I just heard that astronomer John Huchra has died. Astronomy has lost a big player and a very nice man.

His contributions to the field of cosmology are wide and deep. You can read some of them over at Cosmic Variance.

In college and grad school we learned about his accomplishments, like the redshift survey, and the famous stickman image. For years, he wasn’t much more than a name to me, although one associated with big, important cosmological results.

huchraAnd then, just a couple of years ago, I ran into him for what I think was the first time. It was at an American Astronomical Society meeting. Every year there’s a big party with dancing at some club or bar, and of all the places that was where I met him (he’s shown here with astronomer Pamela Gay at that party). We chatted for a while, and I was surprised to find he was warm, funny, even a bit silly. I remember some of the folks were giving away astronomically-themed temporary tattoos, and he wanted to get one.

I shouldn’t have been too surprised– lots of astronomers are very, very different than the stuffy, stiff mold our brains stereotype them as — but it sure is nice to know that some of the great ones really are human. I’m saddened by the loss to the community, and to science. We could use more folks like John.

MORE ABOUT: John Huchra

Comments (12)

Links to this Post

  1. John Huchra « Galaxy Zoo | May 9, 2012
  1. John Baxter

    Speaking from a point 9 years his senior, I can say we’ve lost Professor Huchra WAY too soon.

  2. Kirk Borne

    John was a senior grad student at Caltech when I started there. He was always funny, kind, and self-effacing, while being an extraordinarily hard-working, thoughtful, and productive astronomer. I agree … he definitely left us way too soon!

  3. Mike

    Well, that’s truly sad news. I met John Huchra when he spent a sabbatical at Santa Cruz, and taught a “topics in astronomy” course while I was a grad student there in the 90s. The arguments over the value of the Hubble constant were still going on, and he had some very interesting insight as to why Sandage and deVaucouleur disagreed.

    He’ll be missed.

  4. Tod R. Lauer

    A terrible loss… For those of you who have thoughts to share, there is a guestbook at

  5. Stacy McGaugh

    Shocked and saddened to hear this news. A great loss.

  6. Thanks for this post, Phil. John was a huge factor in making CfA a good place to work and it’s hard to imagine what it’ll be like without him. I’ve posted some more AAS pics of him at

  7. Samuel Meyer

    As an undergraduate at Harvard, I can affirm that he was a truly amazing man. It was a definite shock to lose him so soon. As talented and hard-working of an astronomer as he was, I still remember him as the nice, funny guy, who always found time for everyone.

  8. Michael Rich

    “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” Psalm 90. John dreamed of living to 100, of seeing his granchildren- he wanted most life, and time with loved ones. He was an outstanding scientist and warm human being. Our field is much less for his passing; such terrible news this is… it cannot be real. In addition to his profound scientific contributions, I appreciate his untiring dedication to professional ethics. Our field has sustained a terrible loss, as John was a great leader with a fine heart.

  9. Astro_Nuke

    I never met Dr. Huchra up close, but at the 213th AAS meeting, I was at the banquet and they had invited an astronomy-themed improve comedy group, the Galileo Players . At the end, they had a sketch where Dr. Huchra was debating Socrates and they painted Dr. Huchra to an embarrassing corner. It seemed like half the audience was shocked or appalled, but it was obvious Dr. Huchra had an excellent sense of humor.

  10. Christine Pulliam

    I can’t say enough good things about John Huchra. He was an excellent scientist and a kind person who always had a smile on his face. I wish I had gotten the chance to work with him more. He will be greatly missed.

  11. Bethany

    Phil, thank you so much for posting this. John will be missed. I just starting working at AAS and he was Chair of the public policy committee that I work on. In the short time I knew him I found him to be very intelligent, funny, and a great astronomer.


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