George O. Abell

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George Ogden Abell (March 1, 1927 – October 7, 1983) was an astronomer at UCLA.[1] He worked as a research astronomer, teacher, administrator, popularizer of science and education, and skeptic. Abell received his B.S. (1951), M.S. (1952) and Ph.D. (1957) from the California Institute of Technology under Donald Osterbrock. He began his astronomical career as a tour guide at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.[2]


Abell 2261 is one galaxy cluster from his catalogue of clusters of galaxies, collected during the Palomar Sky Survey.

His best known work was his catalogue of clusters of galaxies collected during the Palomar Sky Survey.[3][4] He analyzed their formation and evolution. He demonstrated that second-order clustering existed, disproving the hierarchical model of Carl Charlier.[2] He also discovered how cluster luminosity could be used as a distance scale.[2] He also collated a famous list of 86 planetary nebulae in 1966 which includes Abell 39.

The Abell catalogue is an almost complete list of approximately 4,000 clusters containing at least thirty members up to a redshift of z = 0.2. (See List of galaxy clusters.) The original catalogue of clusters in the northern hemisphere was published in 1958.[5] The extended catalogue, including clusters in the southern hemisphere, was published posthumously in 1989 in collaboration with Harold G. Corwin and Ronald P. Olowin.

Abell also co-discovered periodic comet 52P/Harrington-Abell.[6] Together with Peter Goldreich, he correctly determined that planetary nebulae evolve from red giants.[2]

Abell was passionate about educating young people, serving for over twenty years as a faculty member at the Summer Science Program for high school students.[7] The program memorializes him with its Abell Scholarship Fund. He was involved in the production of the educational TV series Understanding Space and Time and Project Universe.[2]

Abell was also passionate about debunking pseudoscientific claims such as those by Immanuel Velikovsky. He was a co-founder of the Committee on Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) and contributed articles to their journal, The Skeptical Inquirer.[8]

Abell served as president of the Cosmology Commission of the International Astronomical Union and as president and member of the board of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.[2][9][10] He was elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1970. He was chairman of the UCLA Astronomy Department from 1968 to 1975 and chairman of the American Astronomical Society Education Committee. At the time of his death, he was to have become editor of the Astronomical Journal effective January 1, 1984.[2]

Asteroid 3449 Abell is named in his honor, as is The George Abell Observatory at the Open University in Milton Keynes, England.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Popper, Daniel M. (February 1984). "Obituary: George O. Abell". Physics Today. 37 (2): 76–77. Bibcode:1984PhT....37b..76P. doi:10.1063/1.2916105. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Epps, H.; Popper, D.; Aller, L. (1983). "George O. Abell, Astronomy: Los Angeles". The Regents of The University of California. 
  3. ^ "Dr. George O. Abell, 57, Dies; Observer of Galaxy Clusters". New York Times. UPI. October 8, 1983. 
  4. ^ "G. Abell, astronomer who discovered a galaxy". Chicago Tribune. October 9, 1983. Retrieved 2009-09-17. 
  5. ^ Abell, George O. (1958). "The distribution of rich clusters of galaxies. A catalogue of 2712 rich clusters found on the National Geographic Society Palomar Observatory Sky Survey". The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series. 3: 211–88. Bibcode:1958ApJS....3..211A. doi:10.1086/190036. 
  6. ^ "52P/Harrington-Abell". Gary W. Kronk's Cometography. Retrieved November 12, 2010. 
  7. ^ "The "Teaching Opportunity of a Lifetime" at SSP" (PDF). Summer Science Program. 2008-12-04. Retrieved 2010-11-10. 
  8. ^ Rensberger, Boyce (May 1, 1976). "Paranormal Phenomena Facing Scientific Study". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-09-17. 
  9. ^ Fraknoi, Andrew; Flynn, Jack; Stern, Al (2009). "Presidents of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific". Astronomical Society of the Pacific. 
  10. ^ "ASP Past Officers and Board Members". Astronomical Society of the Pacific. 2010. 
  11. ^ The George Abell Observatory



  • Abell, George, "Exploration of the Universe", Holt, Rinehart and Winston (Copyright 1964)
  • Abell, G.O., Morrison, D., and Wolff, S.C., Exploration of the Universe, Saunders College Pub; 6th/Rev edition (February, 1993) ISBN 0-03-094666-2
  • Abell, G.O., Wolff, S.C., and Morrison, D., Realm of the Universe, Saunders College Publishing; 5th ed., 1994 edition (January, 1994) ISBN 0-03-001664-9
  • Abell, George O; Singer, Barry, eds. (1981). Science and the Paranormal: Probing the Existence of the Supernatural. New York: Scribner. ISBN 978-0-684-16655-1. OCLC 6982689. 
  • Abell, G.O., A catalog of rich clusters of galaxies, American Astronomical Society (1989) ASIN B000726Y06