Guido Münch (1921 – 2020)

May 04, 2020
It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Guido Münch, who passed away in Pasadena, California, on April 29, 2020. Guido Münch was Director at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) between 1977 and 1989 and a Scientific Member of the Max-Planck Society.

Guido Münch was born June 9, 1921 in San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico
as the eldest of three children to August Münch and Maria Paniagua. Guido grew up in San Cristobal, and at the age of 17 entered the civil engineering school at the University of Mexico City in 1938. He received his B.S. in 1939, and moved on to mathematics in his third year of studies.

Guido's first encounter with professional astronomers, including several leading figures from the USA, was during the dedication of the Observtorio de Tonanzintla in 1942. Only a few months later, when Otto Struve looked for an assistant observer at McDonald-Observatory, Guido applied and moved to the US on April 1, 1943. He spent a month of training at the Yerkes Observatory where he met Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar for the first time.

What followed was a fast and brilliant career in astrophysics. Guido Münch published his first paper on a spectroscopic binary in 1943, obtained his masters-degree on radiative transfer in 1944, and his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1946, under the supervision of Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar on stellar atmospheres.

Guido worked at Caltech from 1951 - 1977, as a staff member at the Mount Wilson and Palomar observatories. During that time, he published a series of influential papers on the theory of stellar atmospheres, spectroscopy of interstellar matter and nebulae, and solar physics and planetology. He pioneered the technique of multi-slit spectroscopy and published a seminal paper on the turbulence of the Orion nebula. Guido made an important contribution to the study of the Martian atmosphere and worked on infrared radiometry for NASA's Mariner, Viking, and Pioneer 10 and 11 programs.

In 1977 Guido Münch left Caltech and accepted the position as director of MPIA, where he spent the rest of his professional career. During this time he was also active as a professor at Heidelberg University. His work at MPIA focused on instrumentation for the new Calar Alto Observatory. With his close connections to the US, he managed to obtain a CCD-detector for the CAHA 2.2m telescope Cassegrain spectrograph. He built pressure-scanned Fabry-Perot Interferometers for high spectral resolution optical and near-infrared spectroscopy. Because of his excellent scientific reputation, and the state of the art instrumentation program he developed for CAHA, MPIA received increased visibility and recognition outside of Germany.

After his retirement in 1989, Guido Münch moved to the city Aguadulce in Spain, where he continued to work on questions related to the interstellar medium. Between 1992 and 1996 he also worked at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (University of La Laguna, Tenerife). After the untimely passing of his third wife, Eva Maria, with whom he did not have children, Guido returned to the US and took residence in LaJolla, California. Guido leaves four children from his previous marriages.

Guido was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1963, the National Academy of Sciences in 1967, the Third World Academy of Sciences in 1984. He received the NASA Medal of Exceptional Scientific Achievement in 1974, the Principe de Asturias Prize for Scientific Investigation in 1989, and the Order Alfonso X, el Sabio with the Great Cross from the Kingdom of Spain in 1988.

(Text: Roland Gredel)

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