Friday, October 15, 2010

John Huchra, Cosmologist Extraordinaire. 1948-2010

John Huchra passed away a week ago today, at age 61. He was one hell of an astronomer.

He was one of the major forces behind the famed CfA study. The CfA Redshift Survey was started in 1977 to do nothing less than map the universe. The idea is simple: Take the redshift of thousands of galaxies - velocity measurements which correspond to distance - and plot them on one big chart.

The results were surprising. Instead of random distribution of galaxy clusters, the clusters were themselves organized into huge filaments and bubbles measuring billions of light years across. This resulted in the famous stickman image:

(image courtesy Smithsonian Astronomical Observatory, Geller and Huchra et al)

With more 'slices' of galaxies, it looked like this:

That huge structure across the middle of the figure? That's the Great Wall, a megastructure about 200 million light years away. It measures some 600 by 250 by 30 megalightyears. It is probably the single largest concentration of mass ever detected. One hell of a legacy.

Huchra also is the namesake of Huchra's Lens, the galaxy that causes the gravitational lensing that produces the famous Einstein's Cross:

Huchra was also well regarded in astronomy circles for being a very interesting and amusing man. Phil Plait and Sean Carroll have more eloquent remarks than I.

Mr. Huchra, you will be missed.

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