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Obituary for Dr. Thomas C Van Flandern

Non est ad astra mollis e terris via

Media release

Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - For immediate release

Sequim, Wa – Noted astronomer Thomas C Van Flandern succumbed to colon cancer on January 9, 2009.  He graduated from Xavier University in 1962, briefly attended Georgetown University in 1963 and received his PhD in astronomy from Yale in 1969, specializing in celestial mechanics. Dr. Van Flandern's early work is well regarded within his field, but he was more broadly (and controversially) known for his later scientific contributions.

Fascinated with astronomy from a very young age, Dr. Van Flandern made his first contribution to the field at age 19.  In 1959, Tom and his friend Dennis Smith (age 17) set the world record for number of artificial satellites tracked during a month as part of project Moonwatch in Cincinnati.  Tom made his observation from his personal telescope purchased with money earned from his paper route. 

Dr. Van Flandern worked at the U.S. Naval Observatory for 21 years and became Chief of the Celestial Mechanics Branch of the Nautical Almanac Office. His team contributed to the regular production of The Nautical Almanac, among other projects. After retiring from the civil service, Van Flandern served as a Research Associate at the University of Maryland Physics Department, and as a Global Positioning System (GPS) consultant to the Army Research Laboratory.

In his book "Dark Matter, Missing Planets and New Comets", Dr. Van Flandern presented the case for several controversial theories, most notably that the speed of gravity must propagate significantly faster than the speed of light; both comets and asteroids are remnants of an exploded planet; back-ground radiation is not caused by an expanding universe and therefore the big bang is invalid; Mars is an escaped moon of an exploded planet formerly located in the asteroid belt; and that some structures on Mars are artificial.  Dr. Van Flandern successfully predicted the discovery of asteroids with satellites, co-published peer reviewed papers on the speed of gravity with J.P. Vigier, and collaborated with Esko Lyytinen in improving the model for predicting meteor showers. Unfortunately detractors frequently use his claims of artificiality on Mars to marginalize both him and his work.

Dr. Van Flandern founded Meta Research in 1991 in response to the broad problem of getting research support for promising but unpopular alternative ideas in astronomy.  Meta Research publishes a quarterly journal and maintains a presence on the Internet at

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Dr. Van Flandern lived, worked and retired in Washington DC with wife Barbara and their four children.  He spent the final years of his life in the Olympic peninsula town of Sequim, Washington.

Chronology of Tom Van Flandern's illness:

Condolence messages:

For more information contact Mike Van Flandern, 360-504-1169 (Sequim, WA),