John Huchra: An Appreciation

Marc Postman, postman@stsci.edu

Each one of us has an “astronomical parent”—that person who took us under their wing and taught us how to be an astronomer, how to do research, how to take the spark of an early idea and transform it into new knowledge. I was very fortunate to have two astronomical parents, Margaret Geller and John Huchra.

JohnHuchraWhen I first met John in 1981, he was what you would call an “observer’s observer.” He loved being on the mountaintop, telescope controls in his hands. He regaled all us grad students with his observing adventures and wisdom. He infected us with his enthusiasm for discovery and amazed us by his skills at finding exciting problems to solve. The 1980s were especially exciting, as John was one of the co-discoverers of the “cosmic web,” which is now so fundamental to our understanding of the structure of the universe. But most of all, I recall John’s generosity and warmth. In the 29 years that I knew him, I never saw him behave spitefully or with malice towards anyone. And that is one of the most important things that John taught me—that you could succeed as a scientist and still be a mensch! That, and how to play a mean game of eight-ball on a cloudy night.

John became a husband and a father later in life. And it was good to see how much joy his family life brought him. Alas, Rebecca and Harry have lost their husband and father way too soon. I ask myself—how does one cope at times like these? My father, Neil, once said, “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” I am one of John’s living “astronomical” messages, and his spirit, his joy of science and for life live on in me, and in many of you, as we continue our exploration of the universe.

To my teacher, my friend, and our colleague, we will miss you very much.