Here you will find facts about and the opinions of an American astrophysicist who practiced in the second half of the twentieth century. The title explains why I did it. I invented some new ideas, I applied them to some astro objects, I computed things with pen and paper; I ended up thinking that I had succeeded in pushing the field ahead a bit.

Attracted by Newtonian theory, I did some experiments too. I love hydrodynamics and magnetic fields in space. The math is beautiful, and the objects are stupendous in their brilliant displays. For some reason I meditated on gases between the stars, their pressures and motions. I left the stars to others, believing that their physics was under control.

As I grew older, I had to decide whether to direct others rather than just myself and ended up at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics doing both. It was thrilling because I had never had management experience and was flying by the seat of my pants, as I guess other astrodirectors do. In the process, I advised the US government on future directions in astronomy, chairing a number of committees. It is astonishing that the government is interested in astronomy, and it is exciting to interact with the people in the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the Congress, and the Executive branch who have dedicated their lives to enable the expansion of our knowledge of astronomy.

Along the way I studied more abstract concepts in physics, including magnetic helicity and its relation to the winding numbers of nonabelian particle physics. These are topological concepts that I should have learned in grad school but did not.

This review has two parts. The first part is for scientists, and covers my life in chronological order. The second part is for laymen who are interested in science. It gives a flavor of my scientific work with no math and a minimum of jargon.


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    The , a lifelong dream of my colleague, Lyman Spitzer. Reprinted with permission; credit: NASA and M. Estacion (STScI) (see HubbleSite 2010).

    The Sun filtered through the Balmer alpha line of hydrogen showing cool gas in coronal magnetic loops raining down on the surface of the Sun. Reprinted with permission; created by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, Scientific Visualization Studio, Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA (see NASA Solar Dyn. Obs. 2013).

  • Article Type: Review Article
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