We are sad to report the death of our dear colleague Franco Pacini, National Coordinator of EU Universe Awareness (EU-UNAWE) for Italy. Franco, formerly the Director of Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory and the founding father of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, passed away on 25 January 2012 in Florence, Italy, aged 72.
Franco’s research provided groundbreaking insights into neutron stars. In 1967, a few months before the first pulsar was discovered, he published a paper in the journal Nature in which he hypothesised that strongly magnetised neutron stars could release their rotational energy through jets of radiation. Furthermore, during his tenure at Arcetri, Franco was instrumental in the construction of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) – the largest optical-infrared telescope in the Northern Hemisphere.
“Franco's death is a great loss for Arcetri, Europe and the world. He was a great astrophysicist, who played a seminal role in the advances of astronomy during the past half century. Franco facilitated the construction of major astronomical facilities and he also recognised the importance of astronomy education and outreach,” said George Miley, founder of Universe Awareness and Chairman of the EU-UNAWE Board.
From 2001 to 2003, Franco was President of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and this position gave him the opportunity to make his greatest contribution to astronomy outreach. In 2003, he proposed that the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first telescopic observations should be marked on a global scale, by declaring 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009). This year-long celebration of astronomy was a phenomenal success, reaching more people from around the world than any other science event since the Apollo Moon landings.
“The International Year of Astronomy 2009 was the brainchild of Franco, an event that brought the wonders of the Universe to hundreds of millions of people, some of them for the first time. Many of the projects that began in 2009 still continue to this day, and this is a wonderful legacy from Franco for future generations,” said Pedro Russo, International Project Manager of EU-UNAWE and formerly the global coordinator of IYA2009.