Prof. Dr. Rainer Schwenn

On Friday, 29 September, our colleague and former member of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Prof. Dr. Rainer Schwenn passed away after suffering from a serious illness. Rainer Schwenn was one of the pioneers of space science in Germany. It was his science that he was devoted to from head to toe. In 1977 he applied as astronaut on SPACELAB-1 and advanced in the selection process to the shortlist of only five European candidates. In his following “ground based” career he has, like few other scientists of his field, shaped his research area, the physics of the Sun and heliosphere.

He came to the institute in 1978, at that time still called Max Planck Institute for Aeronomy, and initially analyzed data from the HELIOS mission. HELIOS was one of the first space science missions in Germany, consisting of two spacecraft, which observed the solar wind from a distance closer to the Sun than reached by any other space probe so far. His analysis led to important discoveries. Thus, he proved the existence of shock waves and Helium particles in the solar wind and he helped to find the “strahl” in the electron distribution function. His co-editorship of the “Physics of the inner heliosphere” made him an internationally renowned expert in his field. His own contributions to this two-volume standard monography qualified him as “apl. Professor” at the University of Göttingen.

These new discoveries about the solar wind left an important question unanswered: where and how does it originate? This question dominated Rainer Schwenn's research interest for his remaining career until his retirement in 2006. He made substantial contributions to solar space missions from ESA and NASA, such as SOHO launched in 1996 and STEREO in 2006. His special topic were coronagraph observations for which he founded and led a work group at the MPS. For his influential contributions he was honored in 2007 with the Julius-Bartels-Medal of the EGU.

His presentations in seminars and conferences were always inspiring and full of excitement about new findings or new plans. One of the future solar missions he fought for with considerable passion was the SOLAR ORBITER, a spacecraft which is to approach the Sun even closer than HELIOS. He helped to define the mission and introduced it to the science community. SOLAR ORBITER will finally be launched in 2019. Rainer did not live to see this launch any more. We will miss his enthusiasm he inflamed us with on occasions like this.

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