Body of Missing Astronomy Professor Found in Chilean Desert Miles from Observatory After 2-Month Search

Tom Marsh
Tom Marsh

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The body of a 60-year-old British astronomer and professor was found in the Chilean desert two months after he went missing.

Warwick University Professor Tom Marsh was working as a visiting astronomer at the European Southern Observatory in the Atacama Desert, a "facility he had worked at many times before and was excited to return to," according to the school's provost, Chris Ennew.

Then, on Sept. 16, he was reported missing.

Following an extensive search, Chilean authorities found a body about two miles away from the Observatory on Nov. 10, Ennew shared. The body has since been identified as Marsh.

"It's the news we had all been dreading over the last two agonising months," Ennew wrote. "While it does at least bring an end to the terrible uncertainty it also brings an end to the hope we all had for a good outcome."

"We never lost hope that he could be found alive and reunited with his family," the provost added. "Our hearts go out to his wife Felicity, son Henry and daughter Tabitha. We have been in regular contact with them throughout this ordeal and will continue to offer them our full support."

A cause of death has not yet been revealed, according to the BBC.

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Marsh, the founding professor of the Astronomy and Astrophysics group at Warwick University, was "widely regarded as a world-leading expert."

"Tom was an outstanding academic and researcher, although in his typically modest way he rarely mentioned his significant achievements," Ennew wrote, noting that in 2018, Marsh won the Royal Astronomical Society's Herschel Medal in recognition of his "pioneering research on binary star systems."

"He kept this hugely prestigious prize largely quiet from even those closest to him," Ennew said.

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In addition to his personal achievements, colleagues remember Marsh as being a dedicated mentor.

"As well as being a world-leading astronomer, Tom was equally devoted to undergraduate teaching," a number of his friends and colleagues wrote in a tribute shared on the University's website.

"He was kind, considerate and a much-loved member of our community, acting as a mentor and inspiration to generations of students and colleagues," added Enew.

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In a statement, the Students' Union at the University of Warwick said they "are deeply saddened to learn of the awful news."

"We would like to offer our sincere condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues in the Warwick community and beyond," they wrote.

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School officials went on to express their gratitude to the Chilean authorities "for their dedication, expertise, and professionalism."

"They worked tirelessly searching a vast area around the observatory, which is located in arid, mountainous terrain of the Atacama Desert," Ennew wrote, noting that during the 8-week search, teams combed the remote mountainous region.

"I know what a terrible time this has been for the colleagues who knew Tom and counted him as a close friend," Ennew added. "He will be sorely missed."