Obituary: Professor Brian Warner

Obituary: Professor Brian Warner

It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Professor Brian Warner, a distinguished astronomer whose contributions to South African research in the field of astronomy have been immeasurable.

Born in Crawley Down in England, Prof Warner obtained his BSc and PhD from the esteemed University College London. His early research focused on stellar spectroscopy and the abundances of late-type stars and Barium stars, establishing him as a respected authority in the field.

Prof Warner came to South Africa in 1972 where he established the Department of Astronomy at the University of Cape Town. He also introduced high-speed photoelectric photometry in South Africa at the time of the creation of the Sutherland observing station of the South African Astronomical Observatory (NRF-SAAO). He became the very first observer on the newly established 20-inch reflector in Sutherland even before the formal opening of the site in 1973.

Indeed, the historical strength and global visibility of the South African astronomical community in the study of high-time domain astrophysics, which continues to date, links back to Prof Warner’s pioneering work in high speed photometry and cataclysmic variables over the years that followed. He trained and mentored generations of South African astronomers and his work propelled him to international recognition, becoming the foremost expert in his field and receiving numerous accolades and awards which are testament to his outstanding scholarship. Throughout his active research career, he maintained an NRF A-rating, symbolising his exceptional contributions to the advancement of knowledge.

Prof Warner made other significant contributions to South African astronomy over his long and remarkable academic career, representing the field at national and international levels. As Vice President of the International Astronomical Union from 2003 to 2009, he played a pivotal role in the rapid growth of South African astronomy, including the construction of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) and the successful bid for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). Prof Warner’s influential presence extended to the Academy of Science of South Africa, where he was a founding member and recipient of the Science for Society Gold Medal in 2004. Additionally, he received the John F.W. Herschel Medal from the Royal Society of South Africa and the Gill Medal from the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa. Outside of astronomy, Prof Warner had an all-around academic interest in the natural world, including the history of science and classical music, and published two books of poems on natural history.

Let us cherish his memory and remain committed to his legacy in pursuit of excellence in astronomy and beyond.

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