Alexander Lubenow, 49, astrophysicist


Alexander F. Lubenow, an astrophysicist with the Space Telescope Science Institute on the campus of the Johns Hopkins University who recently had an asteroid named in his honor, died of cancer Sept. 29 at Northwest Hospital Center. The Sudbrook Park resident was 49.

Mr. Lubenow was born in St. Paul, Minn., and raised there and in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His interest in astronomy began when he was 14 years old and constructed his first telescope -- an 8-inch reflector -- including grinding the instrument's mirror, family members said.

He earned a bachelor's degree in astrophysics in 1978 from the University of Minnesota and a master's in 1984 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

For the past 20 years, Mr. Lubenow had worked at the Space Telescope Science Institute and had managed the Hubble Space Telescope's observations since its launch in 1990.

Mr. Lubenow was a specialist in developing observations of objects in the solar system and had been part of the team that implemented Hubble observations of Mars and Comet Shoemaker-Levy. At his death, he was developing requirements for solar system observations that will be carried out by the James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to be launched in 2012.

"Andy was a natural explorer. In another age, he is the kind of guy you would have wanted on a wagon train or an ocean voyage venturing into uncharted territory," said Dr. Keith Noll, principal investigator in Hubble's atmospheric spectroscopy experiments, who gave the eulogy at a memorial service Monday at the institute.

"But exploration still requires the spirit that pioneers and sea captains would have known well. We are lucky to have had Andy as our companion on our modern-day voyages into the fantastic realms of the unseen and unknown," Dr. Noll said.

Asteroid 65885, discovered in 1997 by M. W. Buie at the Lowell Observatory's Anderson Mesa Station near Flagstaff, Ariz., was named last week for Mr. Lubenow by the International Astronomical Union.

An avid model railroader, Mr. Lubenow built and operated a large HO-gauge model railroad in the basement of his home. He also enjoyed sailing the Chesapeake Bay aboard his boat, Spica, named for the star found near the curve of the Big Dipper.

Mr. Lubenow obtained his pilot's license several years ago, and enjoyed flying across the country in his single-engine Piper-Cherokee to visit family members.

Surviving are his parents, Bodo and Helen Lubenow of Ely, Minn.; a sister, Ruth Ghassemi of Orange, Calif.; and a niece and two nephews.

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