Andrew C. Fabian

University of Cambridge

Election Year: 2016
Primary Section: 12, Astronomy
Membership Type: International Member


Andy Fabian is an astronomer recognized for his work in X-ray Astronomy. He is particularly known for his studies of accreting black holes (Active Galactic Nuclei and Black Hole Binaries), clusters of galaxies and AGN feedback. Fabian was born in Surrey, England and grew up in a village in Northamptonshire. He graduated in Physics from King's College London and did his PhD on the isotropy of the X-ray Background in 3 years at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory of University College London. This  involved the design, preparation, launch and analysis of results from detectors on 2 sounding rocket flights. He became a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Astronomy (IoA), University of Cambridge, in 1973 and a Royal Society Research Professor there from 1982 to 2013. During that time he successfully supervised 50 PhD students and has worked on data from most orbiting X-ray instruments and observatories. He is now a Professor of Astronomy and Acting Director of IoA.  He has been President of the Royal Astronomical Society and is a Fellow of the Royal Society and Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Andy Fabian is interested in accreting black holes; in particular how, and what, radiation is produced and how, in the case of massive black holes, this can affect the host galaxy. A useful process which he has explored for several decades is X-ray reflection, in which hard X-rays generated in a corona irradiate the accretion flow and are then observed as backscattered and fluorescent emission. Emission lines in the reflection spectrum are distorted by doppler and gravitational shifts which reveal the velocity and location of the reflecting material. Short time delays (reverberation) between variations in the hard emission and the reflection spectrum, discovered in AGN a few years ago by his team, give location in physical units and indicate geometry. X-ray reflection enables the accretion flow in the innermost radii around luminous sources to be mapped and black hole spin measured. Radiation and outflows from an accreting black holes interact with surrounding gas, pushing or heating it so that it promotes or stops star formation in the host. His Chandra X-ray images of clusters such as that in Perseus show the process in detail. To obtain a fuller picture, Fabian and his team use many wavebands are (including radio, submillimetre, infrared and optical as well as X-ray).

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