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Ben Gascoigne

Optical astronomer

Died when: 94 years 134 days (1132 months)
Star Sign: Scorpio


Ben Gascoigne

Sidney Charles Bartholemew "Ben" Gascoigne AO (11 November 1915 – 25 March 2010) was a New Zealand-born optical astronomer and expert in photometry who played a leading role in the design and commissioning of Australia's largest optical telescope, the Anglo-Australian Telescope, which for a time was one of the world's most important astronomical facilities.

Born in Napier, New Zealand, Gascoigne trained in Auckland and at the University of Bristol, before moving to Australia during World War II to work at the Commonwealth Solar Observatory at Mount Stromlo in Canberra.

He became skillful in the design and manufacture of optical devices such as telescope elements.Following the war, Gascoigne and astronomer Gerald Kron used newly modernised telescopes at Mount Stromlo to determine that the distance between our galaxy and the Magellanic Cloud dwarf galaxies had been underestimated by a factor of two.

Because this measurement was used to calibrate other distances in astronomy, the result effectively doubled the estimated size of the universe.

They also found that star formation in the Magellanic Clouds had occurred more recently than in the Milky Way; this overturned the prevailing view that both had evolved in parallel.

A major figure at Mount Stromlo Observatory, Gascoigne helped it develop from a solar observatory to a centre of stellar and galactic research, and was instrumental in the creation of its field observatory in northern New South Wales, Siding Spring Observatory.

When the British and Australian governments agreed to jointly build the Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring, Gascoigne was involved from its initial conception and throughout its lengthy commissioning, taking its first photograph.

Gascoigne was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for his contributions to astronomy and to the Anglo-Australian Telescope.

Gascoigne and his wife, artist Rosalie Gascoigne, had three children.After he retired, Gascoigne wrote several works on Australian astronomical history.

He acted as Rosalie's photographer and assistant, using his technical skills to make her artworks resilient for public display.

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