Tribute to Professor Morita

Tribute to Professor Morita

10 May, 2012 / Read time: 3 minutes

The ALMA Observatory is saddened and deeply shocked by the unexpected loss of one of its staff members, Professor Koh-Ichiro Morita, ALMA System Verification Scientist, who died in Santiago on May 7th. Morita-san was very well liked and highly respected by his colleagues and a renowned astronomer in his field.

In the early 1980's, he served as an assistant professor at the newly-opened Nobeyama Radio Observatory (then part of Tokyo Astronomical Observatory of the University of Tokyo, which became the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan in 1988) and carried out the first imaging with the aperture synthesis technique* using the Nobeyama Millimeter Array in Japan. At that time, he took the lead in proposing a Large Millimeter Array (LMA), pointing out the importance of using a large number of antennas. The LMA Project later developed into an international project in cooperation between Japan, Europe and North America, which led to the present ALMA Project under construction in Chile.

Some years after, from 2007 to 2010, Morita-san served as NAOJ ALMA Project Scientist before moving to Chile in 2010 to take up duty as System Verification Scientist (Lead) at the Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO). His important mission was to verify that the ALMA system meets its technical requirements. For this purpose, he and his colleagues in the System Engineering team worked with the Commissioning and Science Verification team to collect and analyze the data required to verify the performance of the ALMA system. He was also the person responsible for much of the thinking that created the Atacama Compact Array, a sub-system of the ALMA telescope which allows enhanced imaging fidelity especially for extended astronomical sources.

The recent image of the galaxy M100 synthesized from data collected by the Atacama Compact Array and the 12-m array shows a dramatic improvement of the image fidelity over the image from just the 12-m array data. This is a proof that the concept of the Atacama Compact Array that Morita-san designed really works.

"Morita-san has been working at the ALMA Santiago Central Office in Chile for the last two years but has been involved in the project for more than 20 years”, highlights ALMA director Thijs de Graauw. “He was one of the proponents of ALMA as a global collaboration, bringing together people from all over the world to make what was just a vague concept into a reality. Koh-Ichiro Morita was and will stay for us all a fundamental element of this great enterprise ALMA represents."

Director General of NAOJ Masahiko Hayashi added that "Morita-san's sudden passing was a huge loss for everyone that knew him and all the NAOJ staff share the deep sadness. Abiding by his will, we reaffirm our determination to move forward, wishing his soul may rest in peace".

All of us who work at the ALMA Observatory express our sincere condolences to his family and friends.

*Aperture synthesis: an interferometric technique to achieve high resolution by making a single virtual telescope with multiple antennas.