AAS 195th Meeting, January 2000
Session 130. HAD: The Papers of the Century
Special Session Oral, Saturday, January 15, 2000, 2:00-5:00pm, Regency V

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[130.03] The Distribution of Rich Clusters of Galaxies (by G.O. Abell 1958)

N. A. Bahcall (Department of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University)

The first comprehensive catalog of clusters of galaxies ever produced - the Abell Catalog of Rich Clusters of Galaxies - was published by George O. Abell in this 1958 paper (ApJS,3,211). Abell's pinoreeing paper provided a seminal contribution to extragalactic astronomy. While galaxy clustering has been recognized before Abell's paper, the data was fragmentary and not well understood. Abell, a graduate student at the time, used the newly completed Palomar Observatory Sky Survey, which covered the entire sky north of declination -27 degrees, to carry out the monumental project of identifying a complete sample of thousands of clusters of galaxies over a large fraction of the sky. The availability of the complete, well-defined catalog opened a new window on observational cosmology, and enabled numerous fundamental discoveries in the fields of clusters of galaxies, large-scale structure, and cosmology. The discoveries range from understanding the nature and properties of clusters of galaxies - the largest, most massive virialized systems known, to tracing superclusters and large scale structure, to providing evidence for dark matter and estimating the mass-density of the universe, to revealing clues to the formation and evolution of structure in the universe. The Abell Catalog - still the only catalog of its kind in size and area today - has served the astronomical community and enabled these discoveiries for nearly half a century. Rich clusters of galaxies are frequently referred to as simply "Abell Clusters".

Reading Abell's 1958 paper and realizing how he selected clusters in a superbly well-defined and physically meaningful way, how he estimated - for the first time - cluster redshifts and richnesses, and how he used clusters to study the large scale sturcture of the universe, discovering that clusters are themselves clustered into superclusters, is inspiring. Recognizing that he did so as a graduate student over 40 years ago is awesome.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: neta@astro.princeton.edu

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