While he was working on nucleosynthesis, Geoff became interested in the physics of the newly detected radio sources. He was convinced that they were emitting incoherent synchrotron radiation, which was far from obvious at this time. In a highly influential paper published in , the year his daughter Sarah was born, he showed that the condition for a minimum total energy in relativistic particles and magnetic fields occurs when the two are in approximate equipartition. Applying these ideas to radio galaxies and later on to quasars, he determined total minimum energies as large as 10 60 ergs.
The need to find a "machine" efficient enough to generate such colossal energies led Geoff, Hoyle, and several other theorists to turn from the release of nuclear binding energy, which powers the energy output of stars, to gravitational binding energy as the source of these energetic events.
Accretion of matter onto black holes is the modern version of these ideas. During this period Geoff became interested in the properties of galaxies. In the late s Horace Babcock of Carnegie Observatories had deduced the mass of the giant nearby spiral galaxy M31 by measuring its rotation curve, but otherwise little was known. Between and , Geoff, Margaret, and their Yerkes colleague Kevin Prendergast carried out the first comprehensive investigation of galaxy masses. In all, they obtained spectra for about 30 spiral and barred spiral galaxies. The measurements were carried out with a Cassegrain spectrograph attached to the 82 inch telescope at McDonald Observatory in west Texas.
Besides being the first of its kind, the work was groundbreaking for the following reasons: First, the techniques introduced by the Burbidges were ultimately used to discover the presence of dark matter in galaxies. Second, during the course of their work, they discovered noncircular motions near the centers of a subset of the galaxy sample, which led to the idea of activity at the centers of galaxies.
Geoffrey Burbidge, Who Traced Life to Stardust, Is Dead at 84
Recognizing the similarity between the velocity fields of these active galaxies and quasars, Geoff, Margaret, and Alan Sandage wrote an important review article in entitled, "Violent Events in the Nuclei of Galaxies," thus giving birth to the research field of "Active Galactic Nuclei," which has remained vibrant to this day. Geoff's research focused on quasars after their discovery in Geoff maintained that the quasar redshifts were not due to the expansion of the universe, but rather were intrinsic to the quasar.
In this case the quasars would be relatively nearby, rather than at cosmological distances, which he argued would help to alleviate the enormous energetic requirements arising from their high luminosities. He participated in the discovery of quasar absorption lines in , which led to much fruitful research concerning the foreground absorbing gas. Because of his position on quasar redshifts, Geoff believed that the difference between the absorption redshift and the higher emission redshift of the quasar was due to the velocity of the absorbing gas being ejected from the quasar.
But, the consensus view today is that quasars are at cosmological distances and, in most cases, the absorbing gas coincides with intervening matter that has lower redshifts because it is nearer to us than the background quasar. Later in his career Geoff became an adherent of the modified steady-state cosmology, i. In my opinion, Geoff's contrarian views reflected his distrust of the bandwagon phenomenon, which he interpreted as the uncritical behavior of scientists following what he regarded as the wrong-headed views of a few elite leaders.
Geoff also contributed in many other ways to the astronomical community.
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The editorial committees regarded him as an excellent editor who kept his scientific prejudices out of the discussions and who was mainly responsible for the superb reputation of this journal. Geoff was Director of Kitt Peak National Observatory from to , where he carried out much needed reforms, and scientific editor of the Astrophysical Journal from to Geoff also served on several committees, including chairmanship of the Astronomical Advisory Committee for the National Science Foundations from to From to , he was a board member of the Associated Universities Inc.
Finally, some personal recollections: Geoff had an imposing charismatic personality as well as a dynamic wit. On many occasions Geoff's booming voice could be heard, well outside the seminar room, expressing some of his favorite themes. For example, despite all the claims about mass infall into galaxies, as far as he was concerned the data showed evidence for just the opposite: i. Geoff could sometimes be heard complaining about the praises heaped on modern cosmology, which he termed as "big bangery.
Arp and Hoyle, published a broadside in the journal Nature listing arguments against the Big Bang. Burbidge preferred instead a version of Dr. In the new version, small, local big bangs originating in the nuclei of galaxies every 20 billion years or so kept the universe boiling. To his annoyance, most other astronomers ignored this view. In a memoir in , Dr.
Burbidge, Margaret (—) | lightresicur.tk
Burbidge wrote that this quasi-steady state theory was probably closer to the truth than the Big Bang. Despite his contrarian ways, Dr.
Burbidge maintained his credibility in the astronomical establishment, serving as director of Kitt Peak from to and editing the prestigious Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics for more than 30 years. Strittmatter said. Strittmatter recalled that as a young astronomer he was terrified of Dr. The Kitt Peak observatory had been built with support from the National Science Foundation as a sort of counterweight to the famous observatories in California like Mount Wilson and Palomar, whose giant telescopes were privately owned and available to only a few.
Burbidge believed that Kitt Peak should act more as a service facility for all astronomers. Burbidge never lost what Dr. Sandage said Dr. Burbidge had called him up three times a week for 40 years to argue about the Big Bang. In recent years, he added, as the evidence for the Big Bang mounted, Dr. Burbidge held his ground. An obituary on Sunday about the physicist Geoffrey Burbidge misidentified one of the places where he and his wife, E.
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GRB took on a term as one of the scientific editors of the Astrophysical Journal and was the last of them to send out paper copies to referees and to enquire personally, by telephone, whether a potential reviewer was available. GRB served as one of two expatriate members the other was W L W Sargeant, a long-time friend and collaborator of the northern hemisphere telescope committee for the UK. They endorsed Hoyle's desire for a site much better than any available in the UK and the telescope was evenutally built in Australia — the Anglo-Australian Telescope.
He agreed with the other members of the committee that the Royal Greenwich Observatory and the Royal Observatory Edinburgh should be dissolved and the resources used more productively. GRB wrote extensive explanations of astrophysical and cosmological data for the general public, in Astronomical Society of the Pacific leaflets and articles for Scientific American and Natural History.
How does one describe Geoff Burbidge? He supported his colleagues even when he disagreed with them, or they with him. His daughter Sarah, in a poignant message after his death, called him her best friend. Geoff had both a dominating voice noted below by Hoyle and a lower-level grumble.
John Mather presented the first nine minutes of COBE spectroscopic data, showing an incredibly perfect black-body curve settling some uncertainties that had been around for years. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Sign In or Create an Account. Sign In. Advanced Search. Article Navigation. Close mobile search navigation Article Navigation. Volume Article Contents. Married life.
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