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The terrible thing about the molecular evidence on early photosynthesis discussed here is that the young man who was the lead author, Sky Rashby, a grad student at Caltech, took his life shortly before it was published. At the end of the paper his co-authors write:
With profound sadness we record that Sky Rashby passed away on
August 25, 2007, while this manuscript was in press. This is his work
and his first scientific publication. We mourn the tragic loss of this
talented young scientist and compassionate individual.
I’m not quite sure why it says first scientific publication, as he seems also to be an author on this discussion of whether we might be able to deduce the presence of photosynthesis from the spectra of other planets without knowing the details of the pigments involve. These are questions that have become more widely speculated on in the past year or so — a pair of big papers in Astrobiology, discussed by John Raven in a News & Views piece in Nature (subscription required) — touching as they do on both the theoretical question of what the limits to photosynthesis are and the practical question of what we will be able to say about alien biospheres when or if we detect them. Rashby was definitely looking at some of the key questions concerning photosynthesis in a planetary context.
There’s an account of Sky from the Topanga Messenger here, and a website put together by friends and family here. There’ll be a memorial service on the 22nd of September. His death has obviously been a terrible shock to those who worked with him and taught him, as well as those who grew up with him and loved him. I never knew the man, but he was shaping up as a contributor to debates that fascinate me and working with people I’ve met and will meet again, which is why I feel the diminishment that comes from all such sadnesses more strongly in this case. As an outsider there’s not much more to say with ending up sounding like the pastor at the beginning of The Big Chill; I just hope the people left behind find the healing they need.
Image from Crystal Gammon and the Remembering Sky website
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