RIP Allan Sandage (1926-2010)

More sad news. Allan Sandage, one of the founding fathers of observational cosmology, passed away on 13th November, aged 84, of pancreatic cancer.

You can read a fuller appreciation of Allan Sandage’s contributions to astronomy and cosmology by Julianne Dalcanton over at Cosmic Variance.


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7 Responses to “RIP Allan Sandage (1926-2010)”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andrew Jaffe and Russell Smith, Peter Coles. Peter Coles said: RIP Allan Sandage (1926-2010): [...]

  2. I had the pleasure of hearing him lecture (together with Rich Kron and Malcolm Longair) at the 1993 Saas-Fee school. Interesting, especially from a historical perspective (“When I started out, computers were about 20 years old and usually female.”), but bitterness and contempt for the high-value camp was obvious. Surprisingly, his main motivation for “knowing” that H had to have a low value was that “grand unification” firmly predicts Omega=1 and thus the Einstein-de Sitter model (lambda was just ignored) which means that a low value of H is required to make the universe as old as globular clusters etc indicate that it is. I don’t know if he really thought observations indicate low H (he actually championed “42″ in one paper!) and this tended to make him believe in Rocky-Kolb-style cardboard inflation or vice versa. Probably a bit of both, in a vicious circle. He sort of reminded me of Bill Haley playing “Rock Around the Clock” even after Sergeant Pepper had appeared. :-|

  3. We probably all think first of Sandage’s contributions to observational cosmology and extragalactic astronomy. He achieved much success in attempting to determine cosmological parameters, but practical problems (including galaxy evolution) prevented the full success he sought (particularly in measuring the deceleration parameter).

    However, some people tend to forget that Sandage tackled the problem of the age of the Universe from a second, independent perspective: that of the ages of the oldest stars. Sandage made profound contributions to understanding stellar evolution, both observationally and theoretically. He measured and calibrated the colour-magnitude diagrams of globular clusters, but he also performed early numerical calculations to compute evolutionary models of stars, working if I remember correctly with a calculating machine. If anything, I would argue that Sandage achieved more unambiguous success in his work on stars: the subject was not beset with the many messy, practical difficulties that affected observational cosmology. That achievement was great.

  4. Lest my comment above sound too negative, let me note that Sandage’s Saas-Fee lectures were quite enjoyable (especially considering that he is not actually a lecturer), comparable to those of Longair (which is saying a lot). Buy the book!

    You can see parts of it here:

    A similar review is available online:

  5. Bryn Jones Says:

    I was never lucky enough to see or hear Allan Sandage in person, so here are two quotes about Sandage from Dennis Overbye’s Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos.

    Tammann usually stayed down in the control room while Sandage submitted himself to the spartan marathon of the prime focus cage. Sometimes, when the night had gotten long, Tammann would stand in front of the microphone and pour water back and forth between a pair of glasses loudly enough so that it could be heard up in the cage. “Hey, Allan, do you have to go the bathroom?”

    (Pages 166-167, about a prank Gustav Tammann would play on Sandage.)

    In 1967 Sandage took a trip to the University of Texas to give a talk about cosmology. Before he could speak, a young woman, a graduate student, stood up and told the audience that everything they were about to hear was wrong. Sandage was stunned and outraged – an outrage he was never to forget. “It was typical of him to recall with exaggeration,” said Tammann. “She was a graduate student. Allan was already Allan.”

    (Page 175, on Beatrice Tinsley’s public criticism of Allan Sandage’s use of giant elliptical galaxies as standard candles.)

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      P.S. Some fellow observers tried to play a similar prank on me while I was in the prime-focus cage of the A.A.T. They attempted to play a tape of yodelling over the intercom to me, but I had the intercom switched off so I didn’t hear any of it, fortunately.

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