Donald C. Parker, 1939-2015

A planetary imaging pioneer passed away in Miami, Florida.

Parker It is with a profound sense of loss that we announce the passing of long-time planetary observer and Sky & Telescope contributor Donald C. Parker on the evening of February 22, 2015 from lung cancer. Parker was a pioneer of planetary astrophotography and an inspiration to generations of imagers around the world.

Born in 1939, Parker was raised in Highland Park, Illinois, where he caught the astronomy bug at a young age. He built several telescopes during the 1950s, including an 8-inch f/7.5 Newtonian reflector that was featured in the November 1957 issue of Sky & Telescope.

Donald earned a medical degree from Northwestern University and served as a medical officer in the United States Navy, where he conducted research into diving physiology.

After relocating to Florida to begin a career in anesthesiology, Donald resumed his fascination with observing the planets, particularly Mars. He was a former director of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (A.L.P.O.), where he became acquainted with the Lowell Observatory astronomer Charles F. Capen, who encouraged Don to refine his observing skills and introduced Don to advanced planetary photographic techniques. Don quickly mastered the extensive darkroom technique of stacking images and rose to the forefront of amateur planetary photography. In 1988 he co-authored the book “Introduction to Observing and Photographing the Solar System” with Capen and fellow amateur Thomas A. Dobbins.

He continued to be a pioneer at the forefront of planetary observing and imaging techniques, and played a role in developing many of the methods used in digital planetary imaging today, as well as being credited with the discovery of features on Mars and Jupiter. Many of his 20,000+ images of the planets have supported professional researchers at NASA, JPL, and other institutions.

Don Parker (4th from right, front row) surrounded by family and friends at the Winter Star Party on February 18, 2015. Photo courtesy of Manuel R. Padron.

Don Parker (4th from right, front row) surrounded by family and friends at the Winter Star Party on February 18, 2015. Photo courtesy of Manuel R. Padron.

Parker co-authored scores of papers in scientific journals, popular magazines, and news sites worldwide, including a paper in Nature published only weeks ago. In 1994, the International Astronomical Union named asteroid 5392 Parker in his honor for his contributions to solar system science. A frequent speaker at amateur conventions, he delighted audiences with his colorful and often self-deprecating humor.

As an astrophotographer myself, I had the honor of befriending Parker more than a decade ago. We traded imaging techniques and discussed the latest developments in camera technology and software. Parker was my inspiration to begin imaging the planets after seeing his series of images recording the impact scars of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in the cloud tops of Jupiter in 1994. He was never guarded about his techniques and gladly shared them with anyone who was interested. He maintained his razor-sharp intelligence, wit, and an unfailingly kind disposition to the end. It’s difficult to convey in words just how funny and entertaining Don was. I’m certainly going to miss our frequent conversations about the latest discoveries in the solar system, which often focused on how amateurs contributed to them, as well as his famous "joke of the day." Donations in Parker’s name can be made to the Association of Lunar & Planetary Observers.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/obituaries/article11022644.html

6 thoughts on “Donald C. Parker, 1939-2015

  1. Donald BrunsDonald Bruns

    I only met Don once, about 20 years ago. It was a pleasure to discuss high resolution imaging techniques with him. The amateur astronomy community has lost a giant.

  2. Rolo

    Don was my greatest planetary imaging inspiration! I grew up in South Florida and have admired his work for decades. I can still see him on his second floor balcony observatory imaging Jupiter, Mars and complaining about the neighbor’s palm tree that often got in the way. He was a kind and generous man with the greatest sense of humor! Due to my illness and being on dialysis, I hadn’t been able to see him in years. I will miss him…

    Rolando Chavez, GA

  3. Jack-Kramer

    I’ve been friends with Don for many years – we went to grade school, high school, and college together. He was one of the ushers at my wedding. So it’s with distinct sadness that I read of his passing. We were both interested in astronomy as kids, but Don was more advanced than me. He inspired me to become more involved, offering help in getting my first telescope and eventually providing much appreciated advice when I eventually built my first homemade telescope. He was truly inspiring, with unfailing good humor. Though our paths didn’t cross very often in more recent years, it’s a distinct loss to know he’s no longer here.

  4. Ted-Hauter

    I would have loved to have met him. Attending as many events as I can in the last six years of Astronomy, as well as getting hold of every piece of media, I can also surely say not enough is being done to bring the brightest stars of amateurs to attention in our community. What else have I missed? Or will continue to miss?

  5. Matthew_Will

    Thanks Sean for the wonderful obituary of Don. He will be deeply missed.
    Matthew Will, ALPO Secretary

  6. Phil Dombrowski

    I was so very moved by the passing of my dear friend Don Parker. I was fortunate to become a friend when I learned that Don lived only a 15 minute drive from my sister’s home in Miami. Don always was so very kind but at the same time an absolute MASTER when it came to planetary imaging. He was very proud to show his 16″ reflector that he used (almost exclusively) to take superb images of the planets. He would explain his technique for his superb images and would reply “I don’t know how I get this images but them seem OK to me!”.

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