(30 April 1987,
Arizona) The Kitt Peak National Observatory, located in the desert near
Tucson, is home to two dozen telescopes, including the 4-meter Mayall
Telescope, once the largest in the United States. It is also the site of
the only modern
Darwin Award involving an astronomer.
Astronomy is normally a sedate profession, mainly conducted from a computer
console. But Marc, 36, took "head in the clouds" astronomy to a new level.
One evening, Marc was operating the Mayall Telescope. From inside the
dome, an astronomer cannot see enough sky to tell if there are cirrus
clouds that will interfere with viewing. So he periodically pokes his head
out a hatch below the dome, to see if the sky is still clear.
The Mayall observatory dome has an access ladder attached to the side. The
ladder rotates with the dome, and is a potential hazard to things in its
path. Anticipating "operator error," the builders designed the dome motor
to automatically switch off if the ladder approaches the open hatch.
Marc earned a PhD from the
California Institute of Technology. His work as an Associate
Professor at the University of Arizona focused on the Hubble
constant, the study of carbon rich stars, and their velocity
distribution in dwarf spheroidal galaxies.
Observers are not supposed to open the hatch while the dome is rotating,
but Marc didn't "observe" that key rule. He opened the hatch and peered
out at the sky...
The momentum of the heavy dome keeps it turning for a few seconds after the
motor is switched off. Long enough for the ladder to impact the
outward-opening hatch. Slamming the hatch shut. Crushing the unfortunate
Marc continued to publish papers for several years after his death.
Asteroid 3277 is named in his honor.
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