A sad farewell

I recently received word from his wife of the death of Jean Tate on November 6. Jean had been a very active participant in several astronomical Zooniverse projects for a decade, beginning with Galaxy Zoo. It does no disservice to other participants to note that he was one of the people who could be called super-volunteers, carrying his participation in both organized programs and personal research to the level associated with professional scientists. He identified a set of supergiant spiral galaxies, in work which was, while in progress, only partially scooped by a professional team elsewhere, and was a noted participant in the Andromeda project census of star clusters in that galaxy. In Radio Galaxy Zoo, he was a major factor in the identification of galaxies with strong emission lines and likely giant ionized clouds (“RGZ Green”), and took the lead in finding and characterizing the very rare active galactic nuclei with giant double radio sources from a spiral galaxy (“SDRAGNs”). He did a third of the work collecting public input and selecting targets to be observed in the Gems of the Galaxy Zoos Hubble program. Several of us hope to make sure that as much as possible of his research results from these programs are published in full.

Jean consistently pushed the science team to do our best and most rigorous work. He taught himself to use some of the software tools normally employed by professional astronomers, and was a full colleague in some of the Galaxy Zoo research projects. His interests had been honed by over two decades of participation in online forum discussions in the Bad Astronomy Bulletin Board (later BAUT, then Cosmoquest forum), where his clarity of logic and range of knowledge were the bane of posters defending poorly conceived ideas.

Perhaps as a result of previous experiences as a forum moderator, Jean was unusually dedicated to as much privacy as one can preserve while being active in online fora and projects (to the point that many colleagues were unaware of his gender until now). This led to subterfuges such as being listed in NASA proposals as part of the Oxford astronomy department, on the theory that it was the nominal home of Galaxy Zoo. Jean was married for 27 years, and had family scattered in both hemispheres with whom he enjoyed fairly recent visits. Mentions in email over the years had made me aware that he had a protracted struggle with cancer, to the extent that someday his case may be eventually identifiable in medical research. He tracked his mental processes, knowing how to time research tasks in the chemotherapy cycle to use his best days for various kinds of thinking.

This last month, emails had gone unanswered long enough that some of us were beginning to worry, and the worst was eventually confirmed. I felt this again two days ago, which was the first time I did not forward notice of an upcoming Zoo Gems observation by Hubble to Jean to be sure our records matched.

Ad astra, Jean.


6 responses to “A sad farewell”

  1. JohnF says :

    Thanks Bill,
    As you say sad news indeed.
    Even though I had E-Mail conversations with Jean, I wasn’t aware of his gender.

  2. Mark Redgwell says :

    RIP Jean!
    from Blackprojects Zooite,

  3. Peter Dzwig says :

    Thanks for the announcement, Bill.

    I got to know Jean Tate, or simply “JT”, during the latter days of GZ2 and into Galaxy Zoo Hubble. JT was always someone you could talk to and bounce ideas off and explore new ways of looking at things. As members of the various GZH fora we shared a lot of ideas. We also spent quite a bit of time discussing how we might each take forward the interests that we had developed in GZ. JT certainly did that in style, making great contributions to the GZ community.

    JT’s will be greatly missed by all Galaxy Zooites. I will miss someone who I valued as a friend and a colleague, Rest in peace, JT.

    Gender? No I didn’t know either

  4. budgieye says :

    He was always involved in a dizzying amount of research. All his Talk comments were well thought out.
    I will miss him.

  5. Heinz Andernach says :

    I got to know Jean through Radio Galaxy Zoo when in September 2016 he
    contacted me about the subject of potential double-lobed radio stars, a
    subject that I’m intrigued with until today, but none of the candidates
    found in RGZ and by myself have so far been confirmed. Since that
    time I had thousands of lines of email exchange with him, mostly on
    the spiral double radio AGNs or SDRAGNs. His emails were definitely
    at a professional level that often left me without an answer off of my
    head. Often he alerted me of articles that would otherwise have taken
    me a while to find. He also pointed me to certain pertinent databases
    that I hadn’t known about before.

    My growing compilation of optically identified extended radio galaxies,
    partly based on contributions of RGZ volunteers, has references to
    JeanTate@RGZ for no less than 436 objects, about 65 of them related to
    so-called giant radio galaxies that a small group of radio astronomers
    spread over the world is desperately searching for.

    Although Jean had mentioned to me about his numerous chemocycles to fight
    cancer, like many others, I wasn’t aware of his gender until Ivy Wong’s
    notice on November 12, 2020.

  6. Graham Dungworth (graham_d) says :

    Apologies as I have only just read this blog. Very sad news indeed as I read many of Jean’s informative posts on the Galaxy Forum and Zooniverse projects.

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