Best of the Best
love to make lists, especially of extremes. I have enormous fun with a pair of talks I give: the 10 greatest discoveries in astronomy and the 10 greatest unanswered questions. Of course, such lists are subjective and can never be completely accurate. But that's why they're so much fun to make up — you can never be proved wrong and you can always convince yourself you're absolutely right!
In a more serious vein, the American Astronomical Society has reissued, in
facsimile, the most important papers published in its world-class Astronomical Journal and As-trophysical Journal during the 1900s. It's a wonderful collection, filtered by 50 of today's top astronomers, under the editorship of Helmut Abt, longtime honcho of the Astrophysical Journal At nearly 1,300 pages and seven pounds, it's not light reading! Fifty-three papers made the cut.
Obviously I can't review this compilation, except to say that it ain't for anyone who feels uncomfortable reading highly technical material. Nevertheless, for those who can, this Centennial Issue of the Astrophysical Journal* will remain a lifetime reference. In it you'll find many epochal discoveries and the births of new fields, including:
• radio astronomy (Reber, 1944)
• infrared astronomy (Neugebauer, Martz, and Leighton, 1965)
• high-energy astronomy (many characters, 1969)
. solar and other magnetic fields (Hale, 1908; Parker, 1958)
• solar seismology (Leighton, Noyes, and Simon, 1962)
• "dirty snowball" model for comets (Whipple, 1950)
• nature and scale of our galaxy (Shapley, 1919)
• young and old stellar populations (Baade, 1944)
• galaxies recognized as "island universes" (Hubble, 1929)
• expansion of the universe (Hubble and Humason, 1931) . dark matter (Zwicky, 1937)
• identification of radio sources with optical counterparts (Baade and Minkowski, 1954)
• active galaxies; quasars (Seyfert, 1943; Greenstein and Schmidt, 1964)
• ubiquitous clustering of galaxies (Abell, 1958)
. cosmic microwave background (Penzias and Wilson, 1965)
I'll close with the best part. After every entry, a contemporary expert weighs in with a commentary to put the paper into historical perspective. I can't imagine more succinct and profound founts of knowledge than these pieces.