Missing astronomer found dead in Chile after 2-month search

British astronomer Tom Marsh disappeared while visiting the La Silla Observatory in Chile.
British astronomer Tom Marsh disappeared while visiting the La Silla Observatory in Chile. (Image credit: University of Warwick)

A British astronomer who went missing while visiting the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) La Silla site in Chile was found dead after nearly two months of searching. 

Professor Tom Marsh, an expert in binary stars at the University of Warwick in the U.K., disappeared two days after he arrived in Chile on Sept. 14. A search coordinated by Chilean police found a body, now identified as the missing astronomer, last Thursday (Nov. 10). A week later, on Thursday (Nov. 17), the University of Warwick, where Marsh had worked for nearly two decades, issued a statement confirming his death. 

Neither ESO nor the University of Warwick has provided any details about the circumstances surrounding Marsh's disappearance. A Ph.D. student accompanying him on the trip raised the alarm after Marsh failed to show up for a scheduled observation session, according to the Daily Mail.

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Astronomers have visited La Silla Observatory since the 1960s; the site currently hosts 13 active telescopes, according to ESO.

The body was found only 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from the observatory after an extensive search operation that scoured the remote mountainous region on the edge of the Atacama Desert.

"It's the news we had all been dreading over the last two agonizing months," Chris Ennew, provost at the University of Warwick, said in the statement. "It's heart-breaking and painful to know we have lost Tom."

Marsh was a founding member of the Astronomy and Astrophysics group at Warwick and was an internationally renowned expert in the evolution of binary stars and the physics of their accretion disks. He contributed to the development of new observing techniques and helped build new instruments for telescope observations, according to the university statement. 

In 2018 he received the Herschel Medal from the U.K.'s Royal Astronomical Society for his four decades in observational astrophysics. Marsh held a Ph.D. from Cambridge University in the U.K. Subsequently, he worked at the Royal Greenwich Observatory in London and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland before moving on to Oxford University. He joined the University of Warwick in 2003. 

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Tereza Pultarova
Senior Writer

Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, aspiring fiction writer and amateur gymnast. Originally from Prague, the Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, script-writer and presenter for various TV programmes of the Czech Public Service Television. She later took a career break to pursue further education and added a Master's in Science from the International Space University, France, to her Bachelor's in Journalism and Master's in Cultural Anthropology from Prague's Charles University. She worked as a reporter at the Engineering and Technology magazine, freelanced for a range of publications including Live Science, Space.com, Professional Engineering, Via Satellite and Space News and served as a maternity cover science editor at the European Space Agency.