Donald Lynden-Bell

Donald Lynden-Bell


Date of Birth
April 5, 1935
Date of Death
February 5, 2018

Donald Lynden-Bell was educated at the University of Cambridge, where, after postdoctoral periods there and at the California Institute of Technology and the Royal Greenwich Observatory (then at Herstmonceux Castle), he became professor of astrophysics in 1972. He formally retired in 2001 but remained fully active in research until near the end of his life. He was known for significant contributions to the theories of star motions, the formation of the Galaxy, spiral structure in galaxies, chemical evolution of galaxies, and the distributions and motions of galaxies and quasars. He also worked on the mechanisms behind magnetohydrodynamic jets and relativistic disks. His 1962 paper with Olin Eggen and Allan Sandage, proposing that the Galaxy formed in a free-falling collapse, has stimulated an enormous amount of research. In 1969 he proposed that emissions from the centers of nearby galaxies may represent dead quasars. He proposed that quasars are the results of accretion disks around giant black holes in galactic nuclei. He was the senior member and chief theorist of the group of seven astronomers who investigated the motions of nearby galaxy clusters in the 1980s and who proposed the “Great Attractor” to explain them. He worked extensively on the relation of the nature of the universe to inertia (Mach's Principle) and also on negative heat capacities. With his wife Ruth, a chemist, he investigated thermodynamic equilibrium in clusters of stars and galaxies. His last research dealt with problems in magnetohydrodynamics, telescope optics, cosmology, and relativistic physics.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Mercury 27, 3, 5 (1998).

Other awards

American Astronomical Society, Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, 2000.
American Astronomical Society Division on Dynamical Astronomy, Dirk Brouwer Award, 1991.
Astronomische Gesellschaft, Karl Schwarzschild Medal, 1983.
Kavli Foundation, Kavli Prize for Astrophysics, 2008
National Academy of Sciences, John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science, 2000.
Royal Astronomical Society, Eddington Medal, 1984, presented by R. Hide, QJRAS 25, 3, 231 (1984)Gold Medal, 1993, presented QJRAS 34, 3, 273 (1993).

Some offices held

Royal Astronomical Society, President, 1985-87.

Biographical materials

Earn, D. J. D., “The Publications and Citations of Donald Lynden-Bell,” in Gravitational Dynamics, Proceedings of the 36th Herstmonceux conference, in Honour of Professor D. Lynden-Bell’s 60th Birthday Held in Cambridge, UK, August 7-11, 1995, O. Lahav, E. Terlevich, R.J. Terlevich, eds. (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 1996), p.249.
Lynden-Bell, Donald, “Searching for Insight,” Ann. Rev. Astron. & Astrophys. 48, 1-19 (2010).
Lynden-Bell, Donald, Brief autobiography on receipt of the Kavli Prize, 2008.


Coles, Peter, "In the Dark", 6 February 2018
Evans, Neil Wyn, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 69, 333-63 (2020).
Griffin, Elizabeth, Bull. Amer. Astron. Soc. 53, id. 0302 (2021).
Klesman, Alison, Astronomy, 7 February 2018.
Rees, Martin J., Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 115, 3510-11 (2018).


Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge
Science Photo Library

Named after him

Minor Planet #18235 Lynden-Bell


Other References: Historical

Croswell, Ken, Alchemy of the Heavens: Searching for Meaning in the Milky Way (Anchor, NY, 1995).

Dressler, Alan, Voyage to the Great Attractor: Exploring Intergalactic Space (Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 1994).

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, The Chandra Chronicles

Lynden-Bell, D., “Consequences of One Spring Researching with Chandra,” Current Science70, 789 (1996).

Van den Bergh, Sidney & James E. Hesser, “How the Milky Way was Formed,” Scientific American 268, 1, 72-78 (1993).

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Other References: Scientific

Lynden-Bell, D., “Can Spherical Clusters Rotate?” MNRAS 120, 204-13 (1960).

Lynden-Bell, D., “Stellar Dynamics: Exact Solution of the Self-gravitation Equation” MNRAS 123, 447-58 (1962).

Lynden-Bell, D., “The Stability and Vibrations of a Gas of Stars,” MNRAS 124, 279-96 (1962).

Eggen, O. J., D. Lynden-Bell, & A.R. Sandage, “Evidence from the Motions of old Stars that the Galaxy Collapsed,” Ap.J. 136, 748-66 (1962). [reprinted in the centennial edition Ap.J. 525C, 964 (1999) with a modern commentary by Gregory D. Bothun]

Lynden-Bell, D., “The Invariant Eccentricity of Galactic Orbits,” Observatory 83, 23-25 (1963).

Goldreich, P. & D. Lynden-Bell, “I. Gravitational Stability of Uniformly Rotating Disks,” MNRAS 130, 97-124 (1965).

Goldreich, P. & D. Lynden-Bell, “II. Spiral Arms as Sheared Gravitational Instabilities,” MNRAS 130, 125-58 (1965).

Lynden-Bell, D., “The Role of Magnetism in Spiral Structure,” Observatory 86, 57-60 (1966).

Lynden-Bell, D., “Formation of the Galaxy (Introductory Report),” in Hugo van Woerden, ed., Radio Astronomy and the Galactic System, Proceedings from IAU Symposium no. 31 held in Noordwijk, Netherlands (Academic Press, London, 1967), p. 257-64.

Lynden-Bell, D., “Statistical Mechanics of Violent Relaxation in Stellar Systems,” MNRAS 136, 101-21 (1967).

Lynden-Bell, D. & J.P. Ostriker, “On the Stability of Differentially Rotating Bodies,” MNRAS 136, 293-310 (1967).

Lynden-Bell, D. & Roger Wood, “The Gravo-thermal Catastrophe in Isothermal Spheres and the Onset of Red-giant Structure for Stellar Systems,” MNRAS 138, 495-525 (1968).

Lynden-Bell, Donald, “Statistical Mechanics of Violent Relaxation in Stellar Systems,” in Les Nouvelles Méthodes de la Dynamique Stellaire, Colloque de Besançon, 21-24 Septembre, 1966 (Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, 1967), p. 163.

Lynden-Bell, D.,“Galactic Nuclei as Collapsed Old Quasars,” Nature 223, 690-94 (1969).

Goldreich, Peter & Donald Lynden-Bell, “Io, a Jovian Unipolar Inductor,” Ap.J. 156, 59-78 (1969).

Lynden-Bell, D. & M.J. Rees, “On Quasars, Dust and the Galactic Centre,” MNRAS 152, 461-75 (1971).

Lynden-Bell, D., “A Method of Allowing for Known Observational Selection in Small Samples Applied to 3CR Quasars,” MNRAS 155, 95-118 (1971).

Lynden-Bell, D., “Note on N Galaxies and Mini-Quasars,” MNRAS 155, 119-27 (1971).

Lynden-Bell, D., “A Theorist’s View of the Distance Scale,” QJRAS 13,133-37 (1972).

Lynden-Bell, D. & A.J. Kalnajs, “On the Generating Mechanism of Spiral Structure,” MNRAS 157, 1-30 (1972).

Lynden-Bell, D. & J.E. Pringle, “The Evolution of Viscous Discs and the Origin of the Nebular Variables,” MNRAS 168, 603-37 (1974).

Lynden-Bell, D., “The Chemical Evolution of Galaxies,” Vistas in Astronomy 19, 299-316 (1975).

Lynden-Bell, D, “Dwarf Galaxies and Globular Clusters in High Velocity Hydrogen Streams,” MNRAS 174, 695-710 (1976).

Low, C. & D. Lynden-Bell, “The Minimum Jeans Mass or When Fragmentation Must Stop,” MNRAS 176, 367-90 (1976).

Lynden-Bell, D, “On Why We Need a Good Theory of Star Formation,” in T. de Jong &A. Maeder, eds., Star Formation; Proceedings of the Symposium, Université de Genève, Geneva, Switzerland, September 6-10, 1976. (D. Reidel, Dordrecht, 1977), p. 291-96.

Lynden-Bell, D. & D.N.C. Lin, “On the Motions of the Sun, the Galaxy and the Andromeda Nebula,” MNRAS 181, 37-57 (1977).

Lin, D.N.C. & D. Lynden-Bell, “Simulation of the Magellanic Stream to Estimate the Total Mass of the Milky Way,” MNRAS 181, 59-81 (1977).

Lynden-Bell, D., “Hubble's Constant Determined from Super-luminal Radio Sources,” Nature 270, 396-99 (1977).

Lynden-Bell, D., “Gravity Power,” Physica Scripta 17, 185-91 (1978).

Lynden-Bell, D., “On a Mechanism that Structures Galaxies,” MNRAS 187, 101-07 (1979).

Lynden-Bell, D. & P.P. Eggleton, “On the Consequences of the Gravothermal Catastrophe,” MNRAS 191, 483-98 (1980).

Baldwin, J.E., D. Lynden-Bell, & R. Sancisi, “Lopsided Galaxies,” MNRAS 193, 313-19 (1980).

Fall, S.M. & D. Lynden-Bell, The Structure and Evolution of Normal Galaxies (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK, 1981).

Lynden-Bell, D. & J. Katz, “Isocirculational Flows and Their Lagrangian and Energy Principles,” Proc. Roy. Soc. London A 378, 179-205 (1981).

Lin, D.N.C. & D. Lynden-Bell, “On the Proper Motion of the Magellanic Clouds and the Halo Mass of our Galaxy,” MNRAS 198, 707-21 (1982).

Einasto, J. & D. Lynden-Bell, “On the Mass of the Local Group and the Motion of its Barycentre,” MNRAS 199, 67-80 (1982).

Lynden-Bell, D, “The Fornax-Leo-Sculptor System,” Observatory 102, 202-08 (1982).

Lynden-Bell, D, “Mysterious Mass in Local Group Galaxies,” Mitteilungen der AG 60, 23-30 (1983).

Tremaine, Scott, Michel Hénon, & Donald Lynden-Bell, “H-functions and Mixing in Violent Relaxation,” MNRAS 219, 285-97 (1986).

Kerr, F.J. & D. Lynden-Bell, “Review of Galactic Constants,” MNRAS 221, 1023-38 (1986).

Lynden-Bell, D, “How Smooth is the Hubble Flow?” QJRAS 27, 319-27 (1986).

Burstein, David, Roger L. Davies, Alan Dressler, S.M. Faber, & Donald Lynden-Bell, “Elliptical Galaxies and Non-uniformities in the Hubble Flow,” in Galaxy Distances and Deviations from Universal Expansion; Proceedings of the NATO Advanced Research Workshop, Kona, HI, Jan. 13-17, 1986 (D. Reidel, Dordrecht, 1986), p. 123-130 [abstract].

Dressler, Alan, Donald Lynden-Bell, David Burstein, Roger L. Davies, S.M. Faber, Roberto Terlevich, & Gary Wegner,”Spectroscopy and Photometry of Elliptical Galaxies. I. A New Distance Estimator,” Ap.J. 313, 42-58 (1987).

Dressler, Alan, S.M. Faber, David Burstein, Roger L. Davies, Donald Lynden-Bell, R.J. Terlevich, & Gary Wegner,” Spectroscopy and Photometry of Elliptical Galaxies: A Large-scale Streaming Motion in the Local Universe,” Ap.J. 313, L37-L42 (1987).

Davies, Roger L., David Burstein, Alan Dressler, S.M. Faber, Donald Lynden-Bell, Roberto Terlevich, & Gary Wegner, ”Spectroscopy and Photometry of Elliptical Galaxies. II. The Spectroscopic Parameters,” Ap.J. Supp. 64, 581-600 (1987).

Faber, Sandra M., Alan Dressler, Roger L. Davies, David Burstein, & D. Lynden-Bell, “Global Scaling Relations for Elliptical Galaxies and Implications for Formation,” in Nearly Normal Galaxies: From the Planck Time to the Present; Proceedings of the Eighth Santa Cruz Summer Workshop in Astronomy and Astrophysics, Santa Cruz, CA, July 21-Aug. 1, 1986 (Springer-Verlag, NY, 1987), pp. 175-83 [abstract].

Burstein, David, Roger L. Davies, Alan Dressler, S.M. Faber, Remington P.S. Stone, Donald Lynden-Bell, Roberto J. Terlevich, & Gary Wegner,”Spectroscopy and Photometry of Elliptical Galaxies. III. UBV Aperture Photometry, CCD Photometry, and Magnitude-related Parameters,” Ap.J. Supp. 64, 601-42 (1987).

Lynden-Bell, D, “Light, Gravity and Galaxy Streaming,” QJRAS 28, 187-96 (1987).

Lynden-Bell, D., S.M. Faber, David Burstein, Roger L. Davies, Alan Dressler, R.J. Terlevich, & Gary Wegner, “Spectroscopy and Photometry of Elliptical Galaxies. V. Galaxy Streaming toward the New Supergalactic Center,” Ap.J. 326,19-49 (1988).

Faber, S.M., Gary Wegner, David Burstein, Roger L. Davies, Alan Dressler, D. Lynden-Bell, & R.J. Terlevich, “Spectroscopy and Photometry of Elliptical Galaxies. VI. Sample Selection and Data Summary,” Ap.J. Supp. 69, 763-808 (1989).

Lynden-Bell, D., O. Lahav, & D. Burstein, “Cosmological Deductions from the Alignment of Local Gravity and Motion,” MNRAS 241, 325-45 (1989).

Burstein, David, “Large-Scale Motions in the Universe: A Review,” Reports on Progress in Physics 53, 421-481 (1990).

Kulessa, Andrew S. & D. Lynden-Bell, “The Mass of the Milky Way Galaxy,” MNRAS 255, 105-18 (1992).

Boily, Christian & D. Lynden-Bell, “Self-Similar Collapse of Fat Systems,” MNRAS 264, 1003-17 (1993).

Kraan-Korteweg, R.C., A.J. Loan, W.B. Burton, O. Lahav, H.C. Ferguson, P.A. Henning, & D. Lynden-Bell, “Discovery of a Nearby Spiral Galaxy behind the Milky Way,” Nature 372, 77-79 (1994).

Lynden-Bell, D. & J. Katz, “Classical Mechanics without Absolute Space,” Phys. Rev. D 52, 7322-24 (1995).

Lahav, O., E. Terlevich, & R.J. Terlevich, eds., Gravitational Dynamics: Proceedings of the 36th Herstmonceux Conference in honour of Professor D. Lynden-Bell's 60th birthday held in Cambridge, UK, August 7-11, 1995 (Cambridge UP, 1996). Contains complete list of 180 publications through Feb 1996 as well as lists of most cited and favorites of author.

Lynden-Bell, D., “Dark Matter, Inertia and Observations,” Frontiers of Astrophysics. Proceedings of the Rosseland Centenary Symposium, held in Oslo, Norway, June 16-17, 1994. Per B. Lilje, Per Maltby, eds. (Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics, Oslo, Norway, 1995), pp. 11-18.

Lynden-Bell, D., ed., Cosmical Magnetism (Kluwer, Dordrecht, 1994).

Lynden-Bell, D. & R.M. Lynden-Bell, “Ghostly Streams from the Formation of the Galaxy's Halo,” MNRAS 275, 429-42 (1995).

Lynden-Bell, D., “Magnetic Collimation by Accretion Discs of Quasars and Stars” MNRAS 279, 389-401 (1996).

Pichon, C. & D. Lynden-Bell, “Equilibria of Flat and Round Galactic Discs,” MNRAS 282, 1143-58 (1996).

Lynden-Bell, D., “Local Group Dynamics,” in The Stellar Content of Local Group Galaxies, Proceedings of the 192nd symposium of the International Astronomical Union held in Cape Town, South Africa, 7-11 September 1998, , ed. by Patricia Whitelock and Russell Cannon (Astronomical Society of the Pacific, San Francisco, 1999), pp. 39-50.

Lynden-Bell, D. & M. Nouri-Zonoz, “Classical Monopoles: Newton, NUT Space, Gravomagnetic Lensing, and Atomic Spectra,” Rev. Mod. Phys. 70, 427-45 (1998).

Lynden-Bell, D., “Negative Specific Heat in Astronomy, Physics and Chemistry,” Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications 263, 293-304 (1999).

Lynden-Bell, D., “The Newton Wonder in Mechanics,” Observatory 120, 131-36 (2000).

Lynden-Bell, D., “Summary of the RAS Specialist Discussion Meeting on Classical General Relativity,” Observatory 120, 181-84 (2000).

Lynden-Bell, D., “Wandering among Newton Wonders,” Observatory 120, 192-94 (2000).

Lynden-Bell, D. & C.A. Tout, “Russell Lecture: Dark Star Formation and Cooling Instability,” Ap.J. 558, 1-9 (2001).

Lynden-Bell, D., “Exact Optics: A Unification of Optical Telescope Design,” MNRAS 334, 787-96 (2002).

Willstrop, R.V. & D. Lynden-Bell, “Exact Optics — II. Exploration of Designs On- and Off-Axis,” MNRAS 342, 33-49 (2003).

Lynden-Bell, Donald, “A Magic Electromagnetic Field,” in Thompson, Michael J. & Jørgen Christensen-Dalsgaard, eds., Stellar Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2003), pp. 369-75.

Bičák, Jiří, Donald Lynden-Bell, & Joseph Katz, “Toroidal Perturbations of Friedmann-Robertson-Walker Universes,” Phys. Rev. D 69, id 064012 (2004).

Lynden-Bell, D., “Relativistically Spinning Charged Sphere,” Phys. Rev. D 70, id 104021 (2004).

Lynden-Bell, D., “Electromagnetic Magic: The Relativistically Rotating Disk,” Phys. Rev. D 70, id 105017 (2004).

Lynden-Bell, D. & R.M. Lynden-Bell, “Relaxation to a Perpetually Pulsating Equilibrium,” Journal of Statistical Physics 117, 199-209 (2004).

Arad, I. & D. Lynden-Bell, “Inconsistency in Theories of Violent Relaxation,” MNRAS361, 385-95 (2005).

Lynden-Bell, D., “Magnetic Jets from Swirling Discs,” MNRAS369, 1167-88 (2006).

Katz, Joseph, Donald Lynden-Bell, & Jiří, “Gravitational Energy in Stationary Spacetimes,” Classical and Quantum Gravity 23, 7111-27 (2006).

Lynden-Bell, D., Joseph Katz, & Jiří Bičák, “Energy and Angular Momentum Densities of Stationary Gravitational Fields,” Phys. Rev. D 75, 024040 (2007).

Shoko, Jin & Donald Lynden-Bell, “Geometrodynamical Distances to the Galaxy’s Hydrogen Streams,” MNRAS 383, 1686-94 (2007).

Cooke, Ryan & Donald Lynden-Bell, “Does the Universe Accelerate Equally in All Directions?” MNRAS 401, 1409-14 (2010).

Lynden-Bell, Donald, “Analytic Orbits in any Central Potential,” Classical and Quantum Gravity 28, 065004 (2011).

Bičák, Jiří, Joseph Katz, Tomáš Ledvinka, & Donald Lynden-Bell, “Effects of Rotating Gravitational Waves,” Phys. Rev. D 85, id 124003 (2012).

Lynden-Bell, D., “Magnetism Along Spin,” Observatory 133, 266-69 (2013).

Lynden-Bell, D. & Joseph Katz, “Thought Experiments on Gravitational Forces,” MNRAS 438, 3163-76 (2014).

Lynden-Bell, Donald, “The Torqued Cylinder and Levi-Civita’s Metric,” Classical and Quantum Gravity 31, id 072001 (2014).

Gourgouliatos, Konstantinos N. & Donald Lynden-Bell, “Coupled axisymmetric pulsar magnetospheres,” MNRAS 482, 1942-1954 (2019).

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Other Works: Popularizations, Fiction, etc.

Lynden-Bell, Donald, “An Astronomer’s Christmas Quiz: The Seers,” Observatory 115, 356 (1995).

Lynden-Bell, Donald, “Allan R. Sandage 1926-2010,” Astronomy & Geophysics 52, 1.43 (2011).