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Leon van Speybroeck, 67; Designed Mirrors for Space Probes

January 14, 2003|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Leon van Speybroeck, 67, astrophysicist who designed a special universe-scanning X-ray "eye" for NASA, died of melanoma Dec. 25 in a Newton, Mass., hospital.

Van Speybroeck was the telescope scientist for the Chandra X-Ray Observatory Center in Cambridge, Mass., and led the team that supplied the X-ray vision for the Chandra satellite. The orbiting "eye" was launched by the space shuttle Columbia in July 1999 and has provided myriad X-ray images of such objects as comets, exploding stars, gases jetting from around black holes and quasars about 10 billion light-years from Earth.

The astrophysicist was particularly credited for creating the satellite's nest of four pairs of mirrors whose precision performance has given scientists greater insight into the topography of the universe and into the development of stars and galaxies. Van Speybroeck's mirrors were essential to the satellite's success, according to Chandra project Director Harvey D. Tananbaum of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

A native of Wichita, Kan., Van Speybroeck earned undergraduate and doctoral degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He began his career as a research associate in high-energy physics at MIT, worked as an X-ray astronomer at American Science and Engineering Inc. and joined the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard in 1973.

Before Chandra, he developed mirrors for the Einstein X-Ray Observatory. His work was recognized last year with the Bruno Rossi Prize of the American Astronomical Society.

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