Saturday, January 30, 2010

Geoffrey Burbidge passes away (Jan 26 2010)

UCSD reports that Geoffrey Burbidge passed away on January 26th, 2010, after a long illness.

I extend my condolences to his surviving family and friends.

He will be remembered for seminal contributions to astrophysics, in particular our understanding of stellar nucleosynthesis and chemical evolution (Burbidge, Burbidge, Fowler & Hoyle, 1957, Rev. Mod. Phys. 29, 547), his long stint as editor of Annual Reviews of Astronomy & Astrophysics, and his quixotic refusal to accept a Big Bang cosmology even in the face of overwhelming evidence for it and against Hoyle's and his favored Steady State models.

I must admit I have much tolerance for the Burbidge's peculiarities than for Hoyle (e.g. the crazy anti-evolution stuff).

That the Burbidges did some of the early work on M82's wind (Burbidge, Burbidge & Rubin, 1964, AJ, 69, 535; Burbidge, Burbidge & Rubin, 1964, ApJ, 140, 942; although admittedly they thought it a non-thermal phenomenon possibly related to the contemporarily discovered quasar/QSO phenomenon, and also Lynds & Sandage's paper on M82 came before theirs) certainly helps.

More recently (various papers between 1980 to 2003) the Burbidge's interest in M82 has been with identifying QSOs that are nearby to M82. Of course they believed there were unusual areal densities of QSOs near galaxies like M82, which they thought meant that QSOs were ejected from the centers of galaxies (Steady State cosmologies required continual creation of matter ex-nihilo) and that the QSO's much higher redshifts were non-cosmological. But papers, including those papers, can still be scientifically useful even you don't have to believe the author's interpretations. QSOs can be used as background light sources to probe the intergalactic medium around galaxies, and with a sufficiently sensitive detector this can be used to probe the extent of the IGM around M82 and the extent of its wind - this could answer important unanswered questions about the galactic winds. Sadly the QSOs near M82 are too faint for this technique to be currently useful... but at some point in the future those QSO will be good targets. But you need to have a list of the coordinates and brightness of your candidate background QSOs, and the Burbidge's (and Arp) have spent a lot of telescope time finding QSOs in the sky near galaxies when few other astronomers were interested in doing so.

[The image of Geoffrey Burbidge shown here, credit UCSD, is dated 1966.]

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