Allen Sandage just died. An article in the New York Times is here. Not someone I knew or indeed ever met, but he has always hovered in my psyche, like he has for most astronomers my age. In 1961 he founded modern cosmology by writing “The ability of the 200inch telescope to discriminate between selected world models” and in 1962, with Eggen and Lynden-Bell, he kicked off the subject of galaxy formation by writing “Evidence from the motions of old stars that the Galaxy collapsed“. Anyone who can write two such epochal papers in successive years ought to have a warm glow for the rest of their lives. Maybe he did, but of course he didn’t sit back; he pursued his program relentlessly for decades.
In some ways I miss the old days when the warring H0=52 and H0=85 camps would have bust ups at every conference, led by Sandage and his arch-rival Gerard De Vaucouleurs. A well known astronomer, who may or may not be Richard Ellis, once told me that sometime in the 1990s, by which time Sandage was 70ish and De Vaucouleurs was 80ish, he went to yet another conference where each camp was convinced of its rectitude. Richard claims he stood up and said “I am getting fed up with these debates. This subject needs some young man to come in and sort things out”. (Pardon the sexism.) Apparently De Vaucouleurs swelled his chest and said “Indeed. I am zat young man.”
(Richard can feel free to unclaim the story.)
So I just checked out those two classic papers. What really hit me was that the classic 1961 paper has 375 citations. Well that’s pretty good of course, but plenty of people these days clock up papers with more citations than that. Certainly wouldn’t guarantee you a Faculty position at a good university these days…