Prof. Michael Rowan-Robinson

Professor

m.rrobinson@ null imperial.ac.uk

Phone: +44 (0)20 7594 7543
Fax: +44 (0)20 759 47772
Room 1003b, Level 10
Imperial College London, Astrophysics, Blackett Laboratory, Prince Consort Road, London SW7 2AZ, UK

 

I work on infrared astronomy and cosmology. 

 

I was Head of the Astrophysics Group at Imperial College in London from 1993 to 2007.
From 2007-12 I continued to teach part-time in the Blackett Lab, Imperial.  I was President
of the Royal Astronomical Society 2006-8.  I chaired the UK Ground-Based Facilities Review in 2009, and I was Chair of the European Southern Observatory's Observation Planning Committee in 2011.
My cv is available here

 

Some of my recent public lectures can be found at lectures
A list of my articles and reviews can be found here
A list of my selected scientific papers is available here

 

Some details of my current and recent research are given below.   In 2014 I gave a 6-lecture postgraduate course on ‘Dusty galaxies’ at the University of Bologna (text of lectures here).

 

I am also strongly involved in astronomy outreach activities, both in my home locality and more widely.  I live in Southwold, Suffolk, and write a monthly column in the Southwold Organ about astronomy, tides, coastal erosion and climate change called Stars'n Tides.  I am Honorary President of the Darsham And Surrounding Hamlets (DASH) astronomical society.  I have given talks about astronomy and space to primary schools and worked with local cubs for their astronomy badge.  I gave lectures at the Thessaloniki Demetriad Festival in 2008 and 2009 (texts here).  I took part in a debate about the reality of black holes at the Hay Science Festival in 2015 (my contribution here).  I gave a talk via webinar in Nov 2015 to students at Kharagour, India, on Astronomy from Space.

 

I have also become increasingly interested in the history and philosophy of science.  I gave a talk in 2013 at University College London on 'Reflections on Kant and Herschel: the interaction of theory and observation' (text here, published in Harmony of the Sphere, ed. Silvia De Bianchi, 2013, Cambridge Scholars Publishing).

 

I gave a talk on 'Shakespeare's astronomy' on the BBC World at One on Shakespeare's 450th birthday and a longer version as part of the IXth INSAP (Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena) conference in 2015 at Gresham College, London (text here.) 

 

I have a strong interest in Aristotle and his legacy.  I wrote an article 'Was Aristotle the First Physicist ?' in Physics World in 2002 (text here).  Work in progress is to expand this to book length: 'At the Lyceum of Aristotle'.

 

I gave a lecture on 'Interplay between Evidence and Theory in Astrophysics and Cosmology' at the Institute of Advanced Study, Durham, in 2015.  Examples discussed included Copernicus, Galileo, Maxwell, Einstein, Hubble (text here).

 

My 'Contemporary Authors' entry is given here.  As well as writing on astronomy and science, I wrote a play 'The LIfe and Times of Nicolas Koppernick of Torun', which was broadcast in a Polish translation by Bolek Taborski by the BBC Polish Service in four parts during December 1973 as part of the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of Copernicus's birth.

 

My books are:
Cosmology 1977, Oxford University 
1981, 2nd edition;
  1981, Japanese edition; 
  1996, 3rd edition;
2004, 4th edition;
2008, Russian edition.
   
Cosmic Landscape 1979, Oxford University Press
  1988, Japanese edition, Chijn Shokan;
  1991, Hungarian edition, ('Kozmikus Tajker') Gondolat.
Cosmological Distance Ladder 1985, W.H.Freeman & Company

 

Fire and Ice, the Nuclear Winter 1985, Longman
  1985, Japanese edition, Iwanami Shoten;
  1986, Spanish edition, ('El Invierno Nuclear') Ariel;
  1993, Bulgarian edition.
Our Universe, an armchair guide 1990, Longmans
1992, German edition, 'Das Universum der Sterne', Spektrum;
1992, Italian edition, 'L'Universo', Zanichelli;
2007, Turkish edition, 'Yildizlar.in Altinda', Tubitak Populer Bilim Kitiplar
Ripples in the Cosmos 1993, W.H.Freeman/Spectrum
1994, German edition, 'Das Flustern des Urknalls', Spektrum;
1995, Japanese edition, Springer Tokyo.
Nine Numbers of the Cosmos 1999, Oxford University Press
1999, Portuguese edition, 'Os Nove Numeros do Cosmos', Temas e Debates;
2001, Spanish edition, 'Los Nueve Numeros del Cosmos', Editorial Complutense;
2002, Italian edition, 'I Nove Numeri del Cosmo', Editori Riuniti.

 

Night Vision, 2013, Cambridge University Press
 
Stars'n Tides, Dec 2014, Leiston Press, 
Edited collection of first 100 Stars'n Tides columns for the Southwold Organ

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My current scientific projects include:

the revised IRAS FSS Galaxy redshift catalogue (RIFSCz)

Lingyu Wang and I generated the Imperial IRAS Faint Source Catalog redshift catalogue (IIFSCz) in 2009.  We have now produced a revised version of this (RIFSCz), incorporating SDSS, 2MASS, WISE and Planck data (Wang et al, 2014, MNRAS 442, 2739).  A further update (Nov 2014) incorporates Akari data and improved optical and near infrared data for 1271 nearby galaxies, see readme.

 The SPITZER SWIRE Survey

The SWIRE consortium (PI Carol Lonsdale, Deputy PI Michael Rowan-Robinson) consisted of astronomers from IPAC, UCSD, Imperial, Sussex, IAC Tenerife, Padova and other institutions in the US and Europe, and has carried out a Legacy Survey with SPITZER of 49 sq deg of sky. 

 

Our 2008 paper on photometric redshifts in the SWIRE Survey can be found here
A paper on the revised SWIRE Photometric Redshift Catalogue (2013) can be found here, the revised Catalogue here, the readme file describing this here (includes details of post-2013-paper reprocessing of XMM and S1 areas), and the optical and infrared templates used to make the Catalogue here.

                     

                                                                                                                                                   

MODELS FOR SOURCE-COUNTS AND BACKGROUND AT INFRARED AND SUBMILLIMETRE WAVELENGTHS

A simple and versatile parameterized approach to the star formation history allows a quantitative investigation of the constraints from far infrared and submillimetre counts and background intensity measurements (Rowan-Robinson 2001).

The models include four spectral components: infrared cirrus (emission from interstellar dust), an M82-like starburst, an Arp220-like starburst and an AGN dust torus.  The 60 mu luminosity function is determined for each chosen rate of evolution using the PSCz redshift data for 15000 galaxies.  The proportions of each spectral type as a function of 60 mu luminosity are chosen for consistency with IRAS and SCUBA colour-luminosity relations, and with the fraction of AGN as a function of luminosity found in 12 mu samples. The
luminosity function for each component at any wavelength can then be calculated from the assumed spectral energy distributions.
With assumptions about the optical seds corresponding to each component and, for the AGN component, an assumed dependence of the dust covering factor on luminosity, the optical and near infrared counts can
be accurately modelled.  High and low mass stars are treated separately, since the former will trace the rate of star formation, while the latter trace the cumulative integral of the star formation rate.
A good fit to the observed counts at 0.44, 2.2, 15, 60, 90, 175 and 850 mu,
and to the integrated background spectrum, can be found with pure luminosity evolution in all 3 cosmological models investigated: Omega_o = 1, Omega_o = 0.3 (Lambda = 0), and Omega_o = 0.3, Lambda = 0.7.

 
A revised version of this counts model is described in my 2009 paper.

 

Radiative transfer models for infrared and submm seds

Details of models for starbursts are described in Efstathiou, Rowan-Robinson and Siebenmorgen (2000, MN 313,734).
Our paper on cirrus models for local and high redshift cirrus models can be found here.

Our analysis of the Spoon silicate v. PAH strength diagram in terms of starburst and AGN dust torus models ( Rowan-Robinson and Efstathiou, 2009, MN 399, 615) can be found here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HERSCHEL-SPIRE

I was a co-proposer of ESA's Far Infrared Space Telescope, which became the HERSCHEL mission, launched by ESA on May 14th 2009.
The IC group led one of the Data Processing and Science Analysis Software Centres for the SPIRE instrument on Herschel.
HERSCHEL is the first submm observatory, offering full access to the 80-700 micron
waveband, with a 3.5m telescope operating at L2.  SPIRE, the Spectral and Photometric Imaging REceiver, has 3 bolometer arrays and a Fourier Transform Spectrometer covering the wavelength range 200-700 microns.
I am a member of the HerMES survey team, which has surveyed over 100 sq deg of extragalactic sky with SPIRE.  I led one of the early HerMES papers, on the spectral energy distributions of a sample of 78 extragalactic sources in the Lockman field, finding unexpectedly large amounts of cold dust in some of the galaxies, and identifying a new class of very young starbursts (Rowan-Robinson et al 2010).
A paper describing detailed SED modelling of a sample of 957 SPIRE 500 micron sources in the HerMES-SPIRE Lockman area is given here.  Anomalous SEDs and colour-colour plots are used to identify sources with cold
(10-13K) dust and candidate gravitationally lensed objects

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2016 my colleagues and I estimated the star-formation history from z=0-6 using HerMES

Herschel-SWIRE sources from the Lockman, XMM-LSS and ES1 fields (Rowan-Robinson et al, 2016,

MNRAS 261, 1100).  

 

 

Details of the galaxy catalogue and lensing candidate lists are given here.

PLANCK-HFI 

I was a co-proposer of SAMBA, which became the HFI instrument on ESA's PLANCK satellite project launched by the European
Space Agency (ESA) on May 14th 2009.
The IC group has been developing data analysis algorithms and software for Planck-HFI.  Planck has made high resolution maps of the microwave sky, enabling many cosmological parameter to be determined to high precision. The objectives of the data analysis being carried out by the Imperial group are to calibrate the signals from the detectors, use these signals to reconstruct the pointing of the satellite as a function of time, and to remove glitches due to cosmic-ray hits on the detectors.
With Dave Clements, Andrew Jaffe and members of the Planck team I carried out an analysis of
nearby galaxies in the Planck Early Release Compact Source Catalogue (ERCSC), described in one of the first set of Planck papers (Ade et al 2011).  Dave Clements and I have also discussed galaxies with cold (10-13K) dust in
a 2015 paper, showing that their submillimeter extents, as measured by Planck, are large than galaxies with
normal cirrus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MODELS FOR INFRARED EMISSION FROM ZODIACAL DUST - ASTEROIDAL, COMETARY AND INTERSTELLAR DUST

I first worked on models for the zodiacal dust cloud with my group at Queen
Mary College, London, during the period 1988-93.  Our goal was to model all
the known components of the infrared emission mapped by the IRAS satellite
during its 1983 survey of the 10-100 micron sky.  Our final paper (Jones M.H.
and Rowan-Robinson M., 1993, MNRAS 264, 237) included a model for the
asteroidal dust bands at 1.5-3.1 au and a model for the extended fan
distribution at r < 1.5 au, but not any contribution due to cometary dust.
During the summer of 2006 I became aware from press interviews that Brian
May was interested in the idea of returning to the thesis on zodiacal dust
that he had been pursuing at Imperial College in the early 1970s when his
rock band Queen became a more pressing interest.  I suggested to him that
he come and talk to me about this if he was seriously interested.  He sent
me a write-up of what he had done in 1970-74 and we met up to talk about
it.  My view was that he had been very close to being able to submit his
PhD in 1974.  To submit in 2007 he would have to review everything
that had been done on zodiacal dust in the interim and review how the
anomalies that he had found in his 1970s work could be tested in the future.
Within a year he had submitted his thesis and this was awarded in 2008. 
The most interesting idea in the thesis was the suggestion that anomalies
in the velocities of the zodiacal dust that Brian had measured in the
1970s could be due to interstellar dust flowing through the inner solar
system.  We decided to see whether a paper could be developed from this.  
Initially we hoped that a new ground-based programme of measurements
of the kinematics of interstellar dust could be developed, in collaboration
with other groups.  I started to play with the 1993 models to see whether an 
interstellar dust component could be added.  I also knew from work by
several groups that the strong contribution of cometary dust had 
to be incorporated, especially beyond the asteroid belt.
Our final model was published by Monthly Notices of the RAS in January 2013.
The fan extends to 1.5 au and is supplied by asteroidal dust and dust from
Jupiter-family comets.  These tend to have inclinations < 30 degrees, aphelia
ranging from 5 to 30 au, and have their origin in the Kuiper belt.
Interstellar dust is modelled as a uniform density, isotropic cloud of dust
extending from the sun out to 30 au. 70% of the dust crossing 1.5 au is due
to cometary dust, 22% due to asteroidal dust, and 8% due to interstellar
dust.  However only 1% of the zodiacal dust arriving at the earth would be
interstellar.  We fit our model both to the IRAS data and to data from the
DIRBE instrument on the COBE mission (1989-90).  The latter is important 
because DIRBE had an absolute calibration and this is crucial in any search
for an isotropic component.  Sample fits to the IRAS and COBE data are
shown.

I first worked on models for the zodiacal dust cloud with my group at Queen Mary College, London, during the period 1988-93.  Our goal was to model all the known components of the infrared emission mapped by the IRAS satellite during its 1983 survey of the 10-100 micron sky.  Our final paper (Jones M.H.and Rowan-Robinson M., 1993, MNRAS 264, 237) included a model for the asteroidal dust bands at 1.5-3.1 au and a model for the extended fan distribution at r < 1.5 au, but not any contribution due to cometary dust.


During the summer of 2006 I became aware from press interviews that Brian May was interested in the idea of returning to the thesis on zodiacal dust that he had been pursuing at Imperial College in the early 1970s when his rock band Queen became a more pressing interest.  I suggested to him that he come and talk to me about this if he was seriously interested.  He sent me a write-up of what he had done in 1970-74 and we met up to talk about it.  My view was that he had been very close to being able to submit his PhD in 1974.  To submit in 2007 he would have to review everything that had been done on zodiacal dust in the interim and review how the anomalies that he had found in his 1970s work could be tested in the future.  Within a year he had submitted his thesis and this was awarded in 2008. 


The most interesting idea in the thesis was the suggestion that anomalies in the velocities of the zodiacal dust that Brian had measured in the1970s could be due to interstellar dust flowing through the inner solar system.  We decided to see whether a paper could be developed from this.  Initially we hoped that a new ground-based programme of measurements of the kinematics of interstellar dust could be developed, in collaboration with other groups.  I also started to play with the 1993 models to see whether an interstellar dust component could be added.  I knew from work by several groups that the strong contribution of cometary dust had to be incorporated, especially beyond the asteroid belt.


Our final model was published by Monthly Notices of the RAS in January 2013 (paper here).The fan extends to 1.5 au and is supplied by asteroidal dust and dust from Jupiter-family comets.  These tend to have inclinations < 30 degrees, aphelia ranging from 5 to 30 au, and have their origin in the Kuiper belt.  Interstellar dust is modelled as a uniform density, isotropic cloud of dust extending from the sun out to 30 au. 70% of the dust crossing 1.5 au is due to cometary dust, 22% due to asteroidal dust, and 8% due to interstellar dust.  However only 1% of the zodiacal dust arriving at the earth would be of interstellar origin.  We fit our model both to the IRAS data and to data from the DIRBE instrument on the COBE mission (1989-90).  The latter is important because DIRBE had an absolute calibration and this is crucial in any search for an isotropic component.  Sample fits to the IRAS (left and centre) and COBE (right) data are shown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A METHOD FOR CALCULATING PARTITIONS

I first worked on models for the zodiacal dust cloud with my group at Queen
Mary College, London, during the period 1988-93.  Our goal was to model all
the known components of the infrared emission mapped by the IRAS satellite
during its 1983 survey of the 10-100 micron sky.  Our final paper (Jones M.H.
and Rowan-Robinson M., 1993, MNRAS 264, 237) included a model for the
asteroidal dust bands at 1.5-3.1 au and a model for the extended fan
distribution at r < 1.5 au, but not any contribution due to cometary dust.
During the summer of 2006 I became aware from press interviews that Brian
May was interested in the idea of returning to the thesis on zodiacal dust
that he had been pursuing at Imperial College in the early 1970s when his
rock band Queen became a more pressing interest.  I suggested to him that
he come and talk to me about this if he was seriously interested.  He sent
me a write-up of what he had done in 1970-74 and we met up to talk about
it.  My view was that he had been very close to being able to submit his
PhD in 1974.  To submit in 2007 he would have to review everything
that had been done on zodiacal dust in the interim and review how the
anomalies that he had found in his 1970s work could be tested in the future.
Within a year he had submitted his thesis and this was awarded in 2008. 
The most interesting idea in the thesis was the suggestion that anomalies
in the velocities of the zodiacal dust that Brian had measured in the
1970s could be due to interstellar dust flowing through the inner solar
system.  We decided to see whether a paper could be developed from this.  
Initially we hoped that a new ground-based programme of measurements
of the kinematics of interstellar dust could be developed, in collaboration
with other groups.  I started to play with the 1993 models to see whether an 
interstellar dust component could be added.  I also knew from work by
several groups that the strong contribution of cometary dust had 
to be incorporated, especially beyond the asteroid belt.
Our final model was published by Monthly Notices of the RAS in January 2013.
The fan extends to 1.5 au and is supplied by asteroidal dust and dust from
Jupiter-family comets.  These tend to have inclinations < 30 degrees, aphelia
ranging from 5 to 30 au, and have their origin in the Kuiper belt.
Interstellar dust is modelled as a uniform density, isotropic cloud of dust
extending from the sun out to 30 au. 70% of the dust crossing 1.5 au is due
to cometary dust, 22% due to asteroidal dust, and 8% due to interstellar
dust.  However only 1% of the zodiacal dust arriving at the earth would be
interstellar.  We fit our model both to the IRAS data and to data from the
DIRBE instrument on the COBE mission (1989-90).  The latter is important 
because DIRBE had an absolute calibration and this is crucial in any search
for an isotropic component.  Sample fits to the IRAS and COBE data are
shown.

In 1960, while working at the National Physical Laboratory for a pre-university year, I became interested in the theory of numbers and studied the famous book by Hardy and Wright.  I worked on partitions, a topic that had fascinated Ramanujan.  

 

The partitions of an integer n are the number of ways it can be written as the sum of integers, without regard to the order.  So the five partitions of 4 are:  4 = 3+1 = 2+2 =2+1+1 = 1+1+1+1, and p(4)=5. For n=1-10, 

p(n) = 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 15, 22, 30, 42.

 

Partitions were extensively studied by Euler, Jacobi and Ramanujan.  In 1918 McMahon published a table of partitions to n=200, with p(200) = 3972999029388.  Gupta (1939) extended this table to n=600 and Gupta, Gwyther and Miller (1958) extended this to n=1000.

 

In my 1960 work I found a triangle for calculating partitions, analagous to Pascal's triangle for

binomial coefficients.  I published this in Eureka 24 (1961, p.14).  The triangle is based on the

recurrence relation

 

p(n,r)-p(n-1,r) = p(r-1,2r-n-1)

 

where p(n,r) is the number of partitions of n with largest integer (n-r).  A partial proof was given

in my Eureka article and this was completed by J.A.Tyrrell in Eureka 25 (1962, p.5).  p(n) is then

the sum of p(n,r) from r=1-n.

 

Seeing the film The Man Who Knew Infinity inspired me to write a simple program to calculate

p(n) using this recurrence relation.  Using the integer*16 option in gfortran I was able to calculate

p(n) to n=1437.  The table of partitions is given here.  The values to n=600 agree with Gupta's

table, which is available online.  The values of p(1570,r) are tabulated here.  The time taken to

calculate these tables was much less than 1 second.  The method involves of order n2 additions.  

The only limitation is on the size of integer that can be stored in gfortran (one could go further in

C).    The value of p(1437) is the impressive number

 

p(1437) = 168434321304033467550147269349447360294

 

However Wilson(2006, oeis.org/A000041/b000041.txt) has tabulated p(n) for

n = 1-10000 and Wilf(2000) reports that p(n) has been computed for n into the

billions.  I found 1000 mathematical papers with 'partition' in the title between

2002-2016 and there are still unsolved problems, for example the randomness in

whether p(n) is odd or even.