Rolf Brahde 1918–2009

 It is with deep regret the Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics announces that our oldest emeritus professor, Rolf Brahde, passed away yesterday afternoon at the age of 91.

Rolf Brahde was born 15th March 1918. He started studying science at the University of Oslo in 1937. After having fought as an artillery soldier in the campaign in Norway 1940, he went back to his studies, but was, as many students, especially science students, soon recruited into the secret intelligence network XU. He had to flee to Sweden, where he continued his astronomy studies at Stockholm Observatory. He finished his licenciate studies there on a spectro-photometric study of the nova T Coronae Borealis (supervised by professor Bertil Lindblad). He received the cand. real. degree of the University of Oslo for this study in 1947.

At the Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics, there were at that time still only the two permanent academic positions that had existed since the first half of the 19th century, the position as Professor of Astronomy and the position as Observator. Immediately after World War II, Gunnar Randers had been appointed observator, but he resigned after a couple of years to first become research director at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment and then director of the Norwegian Atomic Energy Institute. Rolf Brahde was then appointed observator in 1948. The position of "observator" was unique in Norway, but in the 1980s it was changed into an ordinary professorship. Rolf Brahde retired in 1988.

Rolf Brahde was responsible for the planning of the new Oslo Solar Observatory and constructed all optical elements of the 30 cm tower telescope. His most important scientific contributions were probably also connected to optics, how to best subtract the effects of stray light produced by the atmosphere and the telescope from accurate photometric and spectral measurements of the sun. Rolf Brahde also had a major interest in spherical astronomy and celestial mechanics, he taught all courses in classical astronomy until he retired, and he computed the Almanac of Norway until 1991. Both in his optical work and in his computations of the almanac, he was a pioneer in Norway in the use of electronic computers.

Rolf Brahde did a very important job for the popularization of astronomy in Norway; in the 1960s and 1970s he was the face of astronomy on TV. During the first Moon landing in 1969, he was the expert commentator on Norwegian TV. For a long time, he was Norway's most active supporter of science against claims of the supernatural (especially, but not limited to, astrology). The "older" of us remember very vividly the TV series "Streiftog i grenseland" in 1971 and 1972 where he stringently defended scientific reasoning against the paranormal claims of Harald Tusberg and André Bjerke. Not more than a decade ago, he was on TV giving very good argumentation against astrology. He also both wrote and translated a large number of popular astronomy books and articles.

Our thoughts go to Rolf's widow Elsie, to his sons and his step-daughter.

By Per Lilje
Published Aug. 16, 2012 3:55 PM - Last modified Aug. 22, 2012 9:45 AM