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Sunday, March 26, 2017

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Paczynski wins astronomical society's highest honor

Princeton astrophysicist Bohdan Paczynski has been awarded the American Astronomical Society's highest honor, the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, in recognition of "a lifetime of eminence in astronomical research."

Paczynski has pioneered methods of studying variations in the light of stars to provide insights into longstanding problems in astronomy, from finding planets around other stars to estimating the age of the universe.

The society cited Paczynski "for his highly original contributions to a wide variety of fields including advanced stellar evolution, the nature of gamma ray bursts, accretion in binary systems, gravitational lensing and cosmology. His research has been distinguished by its creativity and breadth, as well as the stimulus it has provided to highly productive observational investigations.”

Recipients of the honor are invited to give a lecture dealing with a broad astronomical field at a meeting designated by the governing council of the astronomical society. The honor is named for Henry Norris Russell, a pioneering Princeton astronomer. Princeton's James Gunn received the award last year.

Paczynski, the Lyman Spitzer Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics, pioneered a technique known as gravitational microlensing, which recently enabled researchers to discover the smallest planet found outside of our solar system.

Gravitational microlensing allows astronomers to detect changes in the brightness of a star when a massive object in space -- such as a planet, another star or even a black hole -- crosses in front of it. By analyzing the patterns of the brightening of the distant star's light rays, researchers can identify the object passing in front of it.

A native of Poland, Paczynski came to Princeton in 1982 after a 20-year career at what is now called the Copernicus Astronomical Center in Warsaw. He co-founded the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) project, which surveys millions of stars, with Andrzej Udalski of Warsaw University.

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