Kevin Beurle, 1956-2009

June 11, 2009

Kevin Beurle, a British scientist involved in the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, has died.

He was born in Swansea on 19 January 1956 and attended local schools before gaining a BSc in physics from Imperial College London in 1976.

He stayed on to do research for a PhD in Imperial's Cosmic Rays and Space Physics Group and was subsequently employed as a research assistant, working on X-ray astronomy carried out by high-altitude telescopes transported by balloons.

Although Dr Beurle left Imperial to join Sira Ltd in 1983, he kept working in the field of space science, helping to develop software engineering and image analysis for the Wide Field Camera on the Rontgen Satellite, a joint German, US and UK project.

He returned to academia in 1984 as a lecturer in applied physics at what was then Kingston Polytechnic, although he soon moved to the Image Processing Group at University College London, while also providing consultancy on satellite ground-control systems.

In 1991, he joined the Astronomy Unit at what is now Queen Mary, University of London, and remained there for the rest of his career. The unit's broad goal was to support the UK's participation in the Imaging Science Subsystem instrument on the Cassini spacecraft, part of the unmanned Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn launched in 1997. Dr Beurle's particular tasks ranged from writing calibration software to the detailed planning of image sequences and their scientific analysis.

Cassini-Huygens has proved to be one of the most successful missions to the outer planets, with data still being returned from Cassini regularly.

Dr Beurle was a key member of the team that found several new moons and rings orbiting the gas giant. After the spacecraft began to orbit the planet in 2004, they used Cassini images to identify new phenomena in Saturn's F ring and provide evidence that some are attributable to dramatic, ongoing collisions with nearby moons.

The Astronomy Unit was shortlisted for the Times Higher Education Research Project of the Year Award in 2006.

"Kevin's enthusiasm for his Cassini work affected his whole approach to research," said Carl Murray, professor of mathematics and astronomy at Queen Mary.

"He was a joy to be around and he looked on the Cassini community as his extended family. He was always willing to offer help to its members when it was needed. I couldn't have wished for a better colleague."

Dr Beurle died in a ballooning accident on 29 May while on holiday in Turkey. He is survived by his daughter Angharad.

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