|Terry Lovejoy | profile | all galleries >> Erwin Rene van der Velden||tree view | thumbnails | slideshow|
Erwin on October 10, 2004, setting up his telescope from my backyard
On September 30th we heard the terrible news about our good astro-friend Erwins death at the age of 39. Disbelief was replaced by astonishment after we got confirmation from several sources in Australia. How was this possible, one asks oneself, because only a few days before we received an enthusiastic e-mail, and the next weekend I (Jan) would phone him to get some advice on an article about digital cameras (which should have been on this page). Erwin was found by a friend, sitting behind his laptop, he died of heart failure. Undoubtedly he was busy processing his latest images, and we are sure his last thoughts were about getting the last bit of visible detail from the very last photons. That was something that always set Erwin apart from the rest. Always busy pushing the envelope, in his hobbies as well as in his sprightly personal life.
We got to know Erwin in 1998 while attending a meeting in Haarlem, before that he already joined “Tweelingen Observatory” in Spijkenisse. Immediately we noticed he seemed to be a bit ‘peculiar’, but very friendly and dedicated. With an impossible standard C8 on a wobbly fork mount he very soon presented us with very nice slides of several Messier objects. Technically spoken it was very hard to do and his talent was soon noticed which lead to the award of the ”J. der Kinderen Aanmoedigingsprijs” for promising new astrophotographers. Surely Erwin was the fastest astrophotographer of us all, with his superfast motorbike he raced with his C8, mount and accessories to the darker Veluwe to make his astro photographs. His home town Voorburg was not an option for this purpose. In 2000 our society was looking for a new president and Erwin applied spontaneously for this position. He enthusiastically held this position until his move to Australia in 2002.
Exploring the world, combined with his passions, was his life. A selection of his astro-vacations: in 1999 he was all alone with a homebrew barndoor drive in the Atacama desert near the ESO-observatory in La Silla; in May 2000 he visited the Texas Starparty, together with Mike Otting and me (Bert) See also AB23) and there, under a dark sky, he was truly in his element; the year after that he joined an eclipse trip to Zambia (AB25), where he witnessed his first total solar eclipse (unfortunately he missed the total eclipse of 1999 due to clouds). He was impressed so much by the Zambia-eclipse that for some time afterwards he was completely dazed. These short photo sessions were planned meticulously way in advance, and last September he told me he had already completely planned his eclipse trip to Egypt in march 2006.
He was also enthusiastic about mountain climbing. He travelled to all parts of the world to conquer the peaks with a group of partners in distress. If you went to Puimichel in the south of France with him, you could be sure to see him running around in his training suit while you were enjoying the rest and spaciousness of the surroundings in the afternoon. That way he was keeping his body in an athletic form. In the evening, the C8 was pulled from the motorbike luggage cases again, something we always were grumbling about, for these things didn’t stack as easily in the car as wooden boxes! Imperturbably he set up his equipment, often muttering to himself. During a nightly adventure in 2000 a spectacular display of Aurora appeared, and Erwin spontaneously held a scientific lecture, whether you wanted to hear it or not.
While Erwin was very obliging, helpful and friendly during daytime, you would not have the nerve to disturb him at night in his “astro concentration”, for if things were not going as they should go, you could hear his constant cursing. A perfectionist pur sang. As a true bachelor he thought his house was for sleeping and eating only, nothing more. So if you visited him and had the luck that there was some coffee (Erwin didn’t drink it, he only drank mineral water and apple juice), you still had to be aware of the expiring date of the coffee milk! His true friendship was straight from his heart though.
Some years ago we manned a stand of our association at the 100 year anniversary of the KNVWS (Royal Dutch Society of Weather and Astronomy). Queen Beatrix would visit and so we had to be prepared and got protocols we had to keep. The visit would be informal, so it was not necessary to show up in a suit, this lead to the fact that Erwin appeared very festive in his old fleece sweater. So even Beatrix did not have the pleasure to see Erwin in a suit.
Erwin was always himself and that made him special and liked by other people. This independence made that he wanted to make his dream come through: emigrating to Australia. With the newly acquired knowledge about the webcam, he left in March 2002, after two years of preparation, for ‘Down Under’ to start a new existence in Brisbane. At first this was not that easy, as an ICT specialist he expected to get a job soon, but recession had started over there too. After a year and a half of unemployment he found a job in a telescope shop (!).
Steadily he built a circle of (astro) friends around him and he was beloved by the ‘Aussies’, with the Queensland Astrofest, which he helped to organize, as the culmination. Driven as no other, he made photographs of the southern deep sky objects and after years of using Kodak P1600X, he made the switch to the digital age with a modified Nikon D70 (see AB31), with which he got even more astounding results that made it to several magazines, all over the world. By sending his results to renown astronomical institutes like ALPO and BAA, his Mercury pictures got scientific value.
You cannot open a single AstroBulletin from after the year 1998 without finding a lecture, article or photograph from him. In the fall of 2003 we visited our astro-friend and made photographs by his side at Leyburn, his favourite site in the “outback’. An unforgettable trip. Last year he visited the Netherlands again to watch the transit of Venus, and together with Donald Parker he was the main guest at our meeting in June. Erwin may have moved abroad, he always stayed close to us. Much too soon we had to say goodbye to him for ever, but we will keep our beautiful memories alive. For always. Erwin, we will miss you!
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