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Death of Antarctic Physicist Marks End of Era

Dr Neville (“Nod”) Parsons in retirement.

Dr Neville (“Nod”) Parsons in retirement.

By Paul J Edwards

The death in Hobart on 30 December 2017 of 91-year-old Antarctic physicist and expeditioner Dr Neville (Nod) Parsons marks the end of an era of Australian Antarctic research and exploration.

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Not many physicists have lent their names to a mountain as did Parsons to a “huge, sheer-sided” peak at the northern end of the David Range in Australian Antarctic Territory. This followed the first exploration of the David, Casey and Masson ranges in January 1956 by an Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition party of five led from Mawson by Antarctic explorer John Béchervaise over heavily crevassed ice. Béchervaise and Neville "Nod" Parsons were subsequently awarded Imperial Polar Medals for their work.

Dr Nod Parsons and Dr Geoff Fenton were the founding members of a joint University of Tasmania / Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) cosmic ray research team formed in Hobart in the early fifties when the University of Melbourne gave up cosmic ray research in favour of nuclear physics.

Although Parsons himself moved to the University of Calgary in 1964, the Hobart based group and its graduates helped clarify the influence of the sun on galactic cosmic rays in the vicinity of the earth for over a period of more than six decades. The group focussed on the role of the IMF, the interplanetary magnetic field, and the “solar wind” in mediating the influence of the sun through a study of solar-related cosmic ray intensity fluctuations.

Because primary cosmic rays are electrically charged nuclei, mainly hydrogen, the most abundant element in the...

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