On Manatees and Lovely People

I’ve been hesitant to write about this, since it was a rather private affair, but astronomy lost a shining star recently when my friend Heidi lost her battle with cancer. She was Assistant to the Director at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and worked in the Dean’s office at the University of Virginia before that. But more importantly, she was a cheerful, inspiring woman who loved astronomy and was a fervent supporter of everything we did at UVa Astro and the NRAO. In some of my most depressing times in grad school, her enthusiasm and support were like a guiding beacon of awesomeness, reminding me of what I could do and be. When I do outreach, it’s for people like Heidi that just loved and absorbed every bit of the interesting science happening around her.

So why am I mentioning this now? The NRAO released a news item that they are renaming a nebula seen with a radio telescope, W50, the “Manatee Nebula” after a whimsical comment that Heidi made about the image. That comment was picked up on by the ever-awesome Tania Burchell who is a star science communicator for the NRAO and actually used to work with manatees! Tania blogs about her reasons for pushing forward with the name and how they got it approved just in time for Heidi to see the poster while she was in hospice care. It is really worth a read, because it links astronomy and biology in a cool way! So kudos to Tania on getting that through, and have fun at the Manatee Festival today.

I’ll be submitting a blog post to Discovery soon about the cool science in that nebula image, but I wanted to make the personal connection here as well.  I will also point out that those of you that were touched by Heidi’s influence (or her story) can make a donation in her name to support astronomy outreach at UVa, a cause that she supported in life.

Thanks for everything, Heidi. We miss you.