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A community update regarding Professor Tom Marsh: Thursday 17 November

A message from Chris Ennew, Provost

"It’s the news we had all been dreading over the last two agonising months.  

The body found by search teams on Thursday (10 November) has now been formally identified as that of our colleague and friend Professor Tom Marsh. 

It’s heart-breaking and painful to know we have lost Tom.  

During the long search operation in the desert area around the European Southern Observatory at La Silla where Tom had been working, we never lost hope that he could be found alive and reunited with his family.  

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.  

Tom was an outstanding academic and researcher, although in his typically modest way he rarely mentioned his significant achievements.  

He was motivated not by awards but by a deep love and passion for science. But he wasn’t just a brilliant academic. Just as importantly he was kind, considerate and a much-loved member of our community, acting as a mentor and inspiration to generations of students and colleagues. 

Tom was the founding professor of the Astronomy and Astrophysics group here at Warwick and was widely regarded as a world-leading expert.  

During his 40-year career Tom authored some 800 notes and papers, on all manner of astronomical objects: binary systems, white dwarfs, variable stars, supernovae, and applying his techniques to find extra-solar planets or explore the Kuiper Belt. 

In 2018, Tom won the Royal Astronomical Society’s Herschel Medal, which is awarded for investigations of outstanding merit in observational astrophysics. The Herschel Medal recognised Tom’s pioneering research on binary star systems.  

He kept this hugely prestigious prize largely quiet from even those closest to him.  

He will be sorely missed. We will consider over the coming weeks how to remember him at the University.  

As many of you know, Tom was working as a visiting astronomer at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in the Atacama Desert. It was a facility he had worked at many times before and was excited to return to.  

He was reported missing on 16 September and had not been seen since. 

An extensive search of the remote mountainous region around the observatory had been underway for over 8 weeks, led by a number of highly trained specialist search teams.  

On Thursday, last week, they found a body, around two miles from the Observatory. 

It’s the news none of us wanted to hear and 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.

I would like to thank the Chilean authorities for their dedication, expertise, and professionalism in their search for Tom.  

They worked tirelessly searching a vast area around the observatory, which is located in arid, mountainous terrain of the Atacama Desert.  

I’d also like to thank our colleagues at ESO who have been supportive and kind throughout, along with Warwickshire Police for their help and guidance during this difficult period.  

And finally, I would also like to mention my wonderful colleagues at Warwick who have been doing so much behind the scenes to help with the search for Tom, providing so much logistical, practical as well as emotional support.  

I know what a terrible time this has been for the colleagues who knew Tom and counted him as a close friend.  

For anyone struggling or in need of help, please do make use of the support that is available. Staff can access specialist help through the Employee Assistance ProgrammeLink opens in a new window (EAP).  

And postgraduate students can contact our Wellbeing and Student SupportLink opens in a new window, who are there to offer advice and emotional support for all students that need it. 

Our multi-faith chaplaincyLink opens in a new window is also on hand for people of all faiths or none to offer a quiet place to reflect and take stock."

Professor Chris Ennew, Provost
Thursday 17 November 2022