Colin Stewart l. Keay




Written by his daughter Sue:

Colin was born on 2nd February, 1930, in Timaru, South Island, New
Zealand, the elder of two sons to William and Ruby Keay. His brother
Alister was born three years later. Dad was dux of Papanui High
School in 1947 and a founding member of the Canterbury Astronomical
Society. He received his BSc and MSc from the University of New
Zealand (Canterbury) and joined Cliff Ellyett's Radar Meteor Astronomy

His mettle was sorely tested as a young child, spending time in an
orphanage and boarding away from home due to his mother's poor health
and then fighting off tuberculosis during his undergraduate studies.
He spent almost two years in Cashmere sanitorium and endured two major
operations in 1956-57 to remove part of both lungs. The scars on his
back looked like a singlet, but it was hard to notice any reduction in
his lung capacity by the energy and drive he brought to his life and work.

Dad married Mum in 1958 in Christchurch. He was awarded his PhD in
Physics in Meteor Astronomy at the University of Canterbury in 1964
and was also awarded the Mechacolinlis Gold Medal in Astronomy from the
University of Otago. He also received an MA in Astronomy from
University of Toronto in 1966 and near the end of his career was
distinguished with a DSc from the University of Canterbury in 1997.
Mum and Dad moved to Australia in 1965 for Colin to take up a senior
lecturer position in Physics at The University of Newcastle, NSW,
where he worked until his "retirement" in 1993. Both Mum and Dad kept
so busy in retirement some of us wondered how they ever found time to

There were a number of firsts in Dad's long career. He created a new
branch of science called geophysical electrophonics, "the production
of audible noises of various kinds through direct conversion by
transduction of very low frequency electromagnetic energy generated by
a number of geophysical phenomena". Within 24 hours of the launching
of the first satellite (the Russian Sputnik in 1957) Dad was the first
to calculate that it would be visible over NZ. This led to Dad and
Dick Anderson publishing the first two papers on observing a
satellite. He also published the first papers on high resolution
infra-red maps of Jupiter and was President of Commission 22 of the
International Astronomical Union (IAU) and inaugural chairman of the
IAU working group on the prevention of interplanetary pollution (space
junk). In 1997 Minor Planet 5007 was named after Dad in recognition of
his services to astronomy.

As a pioneering science communicator, as well as numerous public
talks, Dad wrote monthly newspaper columns, first for the Christchurch
Press and then for The Newcastle Morning Herald where his Sky and
Space notes were regularly published for more than 30 years. As a
press correspondent he covered some of the launches of NASA's space

Away from science Dad was active in the community being the founding
president of the Hunter Skeptics (1987), President of the Newcastle
Cycleways Movement (always lobbying for more bikeways), founding
president of the Newcastle Astronomical Society (1993) and a member of
University of Newcastle council representing staff, amongst many other
notable activities.

Colin Keay DSc FRASNZ FAAAS FInstP FASA, Husband to Myra, Brother to
Alister, Father to Andra, Lindsay and Sue, Father-in-law to Michael
and Mark, Grandfather to Ilyan, Rob, Miranda, Zoe, Sarah and Sammy. He
will be greatly missed but what an amazing 85 years it was.

Past affiliation(s) within the IAU

  • Past President of Commission 22 Meteors, Meteorites & Interplanetary Dust (1988-1991)
  • Past Vice-President of Commission 22 Meteors, Meteorites & Interplanetary Dust (1985-1988)
  • Past Organizing Committee Member of Commission 22 Meteors, Meteorites & Interplanetary Dust (1991-1994)
  • Past Member of Division C Education, Outreach and Heritage
  • Past Member of Division F Planetary Systems and Astrobiology
  • Past Member of Commission 15 Physical Study of Comets & Minor Planets (until 2015)
  • Past Member of Commission 22 Meteors, Meteorites & Interplanetary Dust (until 2015)
  • Past Member of Commission 41 History of Astronomy (2003-2015)
  • Past Member of Commission 51 Bio-Astronomy (until 2015)
  • Past Member of Division III Planetary Systems Sciences (until 2012)

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