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The Astronomical Community Loses a Rising Star


by Patricia Knezek, Joannah Hinz, and Meg Urry

June 2004

 

The astronomical community as a whole, and those of us who worked with Beth on
STATUS in particular, were deeply saddened to hear of the death of Dr. Elizabeth
(Beth) Holmes on Tuesday, March 23, 2004. She was a dedicated and passionate astronomer, as
well as an advocate for women's issues. Despite her youth within our field, she was already making a mark.

Beth Holmes : June 24, 1973 - March 23, 2004


Beth was an undergraduate at MIT, majoring in physics and participating in the Undergraduate
Research Opportunities Project with Professor Chuck Counselman. She developed her senior
thesis under Dr. Heidi Hammel analyzing Hubble Space Telescope images of the planet Neptune.
Her contributions included measurements of the locations of discrete cloud features, from which
she derived zonal wind speeds. Beth also helped with an analysis of color-dependent reflectivity of
Neptune's atmosphere based on Voyager 2 spacecraft imaging. She graduated with a S.B. in 1995.


Beth then attended graduate school at the University of Florida. She worked with Professor
Stanley Dermott on a variety of topics involving numerical dynamical modeling and was awarded
a NASA Graduate Student Researchers Program (GSRP) from 1997-2000. Her work included
numerical simulations of dust particles released from Plutinos and Kuiper Belt objects trapped in
the 3:2 mean motion resonance with Neptune, searching COBE DIRBE data for observational
signatures of the Kuiper disk, and numerically modeling background zodical dust clouds to
study asymmetries caused by the presence of planets. She also extended her research to the
observational realm in a collaboration with Dr. Harold Butner at the Heinrich Hertz
Submillimeter Telescope, surveying nearby main sequence stars for excess emission indicative of
circumstellar material at 870 and 1300 microns. Her Ph.D. thesis, entitled "Signatures of Planets:
Observations and Modeling of Structure in the Zodiacal Cloud and Kuiper Disk", was completed in 2002.


After completing her thesis, Beth joined the Spitzer Space Telescope MIPS team at JPL as a
National Research Council Associate. There she assisted with the planning of early release and
guaranteed time observations to survey the circumstellar environments of nearby F, G, and K
stars in collaboration with Dr. Charles Beichmann and Dr. T. Velusamy. She also continued to
construct dynamical models of debris disks in preparation for comparison with incoming
Spitzer data. At the time of her death, she was modeling the debris disk of Fomalhaut as seen by
the MIPS instrument.


In addition to her active research career, Beth was quite interested in women's issues in science.
She had been an associate editor of STATUS, the CSWA bi-annual magazine, since 2003. She
volunteered her services to the CSWA while still a graduate student, after a CSWA reception at the
AAS. Her enthusiasm and commitment were much valued. She had recently expanded her
involvement with STATUS to authorship, and her article on "The Postdoc Perspective on the
Women in Astronomy II Conference" ran in the January 2004 issue of STATUS (see http://www.aas.org/
~cswa/status/Status_Jan04.pdf).


The astronomical future looked very bright for this talented young scientist. She has been described
as "an up and coming star" in the astronomical community, and she will be sorely missed by all of us
who had the pleasure of knowing her.

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