Andrew Fabian is one of the world’s leading X-ray astronomers, having made major contributions to observational and theoretical astrophysics. After graduating in physics from King’s College London, he was awarded a PhD from University College London in 1972 for measurements of the diffuse radiation from outside our galaxy known as the X-ray background. Those studies involved analysing data from detectors that he designed and launched onboard two sounding rockets.
A year later he moved to the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge and he has been there ever since. Starting as a postdoctoral fellow, he was a Royal Society Research Professor from 1982 to 2013 and later also served as the Institute’s director. He has supervised over 50 PhD students and was vice-master of Darwin College for 15 years.
Fabian’s research has spanned many areas of high-energy astrophysics, notably supermassive black holes and their influence on surrounding space – in the form of active galactic nuclei and the heating of intergalactic gas. His work has led him to participate in many of the X-ray observatories launched over the past half century, from Uhuru in the early 1970s to the currently operating NuSTAR telescope, and he is part of the team preparing the Athena mission for launch in the early 2030s. He complements these X-ray measurements with observations from ground-based observatories at optical and radio wavelengths.
Fabian was president of the UK’s Royal Astronomical Society from 2008 to 2010 and a member of the editorial board of the Society’s Monthly Notices for 29 years. He is a fellow of the Royal Society and was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 2006. Among his other honours, he received the American Astronomical Society’s Bruno Rossi Prize in 2001 for jointly discovering that black holes’ gravity can widen the iron lines seen in X-ray spectra from active galactic nuclei.
Photo: © Sam Fabian