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Famed Berkeley Astronomer Resigns Amid Allegations of Sexual Harassment

An astronomer known as one of the world's most experienced planet hunters resigned from the University of California, Berkeley, on Wednesday after he was accused of sexually harassing students.

The university announced in a letter that Professor of Astronomy Geoff Marcy has resigned, and called the alleged sexual harassment "contemptible and inexcusable."

Read More at NBC Bay Area

Image: Geoff Marcy
In this in this July 20, 2015 file photo, US astronomer Geoff Marcy speaks during the launch of the Breakthrough Initiative, a new project to attempt to detect life in the Cosmos at the Royal Institute in central London. NIKLAS HALLE'N / AFP - Getty Images file

"We believe this outcome is entirely appropriate and have immediately accepted his resignation," Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele said in a letter to the campus community.

The investigation into Marcy's alleged conduct was first reported by Buzz Feed News on Friday.

"We also want to express our sympathy to the women who were victimized, and we deeply regret the pain they have suffered," Dirks and Steele said in the statement.

The university has not released details of a six-month investigation, which found Marcy violated the campus' sexual harassment policies.

Complaints filed in 2014 alleged that Marcy tried to grope and kiss former students, NBC Bay Area reported. The investigation also dealt with incidents dating as far back as 2001, the station reported.

Marcy wrote "an open letter to the astronomy community" last week "to apologize for mistakes I've made."

"While I do not agree with each complaint that was made, it is clear that my behavior was unwelcomed by some women," Marcy wrote on his website last week. "I take full responsibility and hold myself completely accountable."

An email to Marcy was not returned Wednesday.

Marcy was a co-investigator on the Kepler Mission, a NASA project to identify habitable Earth-like planets outside the solar system, the Berkeley SETI Research Center said. The New York Times in 2014 called Marcy "the finder of new worlds."

"I was pretty shocked to see someone so well-known engaged in such activities," student Monica Wan told NBC Bay Area.

Some objected after UC Berkeley reached an agreement with Marcy allowing him to be dismissed if the behavior continued. Dirks and Steele said university leadership did not have the power under California policy to fire him without a "lengthy and uncertain process" that includes a full hearing.

Dirks and Steele said in the statement Wednesday that UC Berkeley is working on reforms "so that in the future we have different and better options for discipline of faculty."