[ASA] John Greenhill obituary

Marc Duldig Marc.Duldig at utas.edu.au
Fri Oct 31 13:39:41 AEDT 2014

Vale John Gilbert Greenhill

18 April 1933 - 28 Sept 2014


It is with great sadness that we note the passing of Dr John Greenhill, on
28 September aged 81, after a short illness. John was a long-time member of
the Society and academic staff member at the University of Tasmania. A
pioneer of X-ray astronomy in Australia as well as a determined hunter of
planets via gravitational microlensing, his legacy is reflected in the
naming of the "Greenhill Observatory" at Bisdee Tier, 60 km north of Hobart,
officially opened on 23 February 2013.


John was the eldest of 7 children in a farming family from the north-west of
Tasmania. After national service John chose to pursue an academic career,
and graduated with honours in 1960 and a PhD in 1966 from the University of


He was heavily involved in the University's X-ray astronomy rocket program,
conducted jointly with Adelaide University, and carried out launches from
the Woomera range in South Australia. Subsequently he assumed the leadership
of the balloon-borne high energy X-ray program of the University of
Tasmania. At this time (in the mid-1970s to early 80s) satellites were
beginning to provide valuable observations below about 15-20 keV, but the
observations above this energy were sparse. John's group designed and built
a 1-m X-ray telescope sensitive to photons in the range 20-120 keV, which
was successfully flown from Mildura and Alice Springs, and as a joint
payload with instruments from Imperial College from Alice Springs and
Brazil. It had good spectral resolution and fair spatial resolution.
Although dogged with setbacks, including parachute failures and a lab fire
that destroyed most of the equipment, John managed several successful
balloon flights. 


By the mid-1980s it was clear that satellites would dominate X-ray
astronomy, and John switched fields to take over the operation of the
University's optical telescope facility at Mt Canopus adjacent to Hobart.
John's drive and leadership led to the observatory joining the international
PLANET consortium in their searches for exoplanets using the gravitational
microlensing technique. His optical work continued into his retirement from
the mid-1990s. In later years it became clear that the observatory was
significantly compromised by the encroaching city lights, and John set to
work to build a new observatory at a better site. He successfully sourced
donations of a 1.27 m primary mirror and sufficient funds, and negotiated
with a farming land owner for a site on which to build the new observatory.
John then managed the construction and commissioning of the new "Greenhill
Observatory", which was opened on 23 February 2013 by the Governor of
Tasmania, His Excellency the Honourable Peter Underwood. For his voluntary
service to the University after his retirement John was, in 2012, the
inaugural winner of the Vice-Chancellor's Award for Outstanding
Contributions by a Voluntary Position Holder.


John was an avid sailor, having sailed his new yacht with his young family
from the UK to Australia, and regularly sailing around coastal Australia. He
often took friends out on sailing trips. He was also a keen bushwalker. A
man of great principles John had a strong social ethic. He was a Labor party
member and a passionate advocate for the environment and renewable energy


John's death is a great loss to the Tasmanian astronomical community and the
University of Tasmania, but he will be fondly remembered. He is survived by
his wife Julia and daughters Lisa and Susie, and three grandchildren.


Marc Duldig and Duncan Galloway



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