This project began in 1972, as the authors simultaneously finished Ph.D. dissertations at the University of Maryland and contemplated what might be done next. The collaboration lead to what became an all-sky survey with radio telescopes to locate nearby galaxies through the detection of their neutral hydrogen content. About two-thirds of the galaxies mapped in this atlas were observed by us. Observations in the southern hemisphere were made in collaboration with Pierre Chamaraux, Hugo van Woerden, and others. Prototypes for the first set of ten maps were prepared as early as 1975, when one of us (RBT) was at the Observatoire de Marseille, in France. It was there that the cartoon of the same author that is found on this page was drawn by Jean-Pierre Petit.
It was still only a matter of the first ten maps, but revised prototypes prepared in 1979-80 were to achieve a professional look thanks to the skills of Peggy Weems and George Kessler in the drafting department at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Charlottesville, Virginia.
Not until 1982 did we have a publisher willing to take a risk on such an untested venture. Simon Mitton and Cambridge University Press supported the project more as a service to the advancement of research than from commercial considerations. We are very indebted to Cambridge University Press for that sustenance.
It was in 1983 that an encounter of the greatest fortune for this project occurred. It was then that we discovered that a wonderfully skilled cartographer had an office only a few miles from one of us: Jane Eckelman of Manoa Mapworks, Honolulu, Hawaii. Ev Wingert of the Geography Department at the University of Hawaii provided much needed advice. The project to produce an atlas began to be a serious business. Still, the work took a long time. The main problem was that we had a very poor understanding of what we were trying to map. We had to decipher the characteristics of the structure before we could think of how to display it. There were a lot of blind alleys. Minor inconsistencies in the way some structures are displayed or named still exist because our perceptions evolved as the atlas developed.
This step forward builds on the work of others. Some of the early explorers were Edwin Hubble, Harlow Shapley, Fritz Zwicky, C. D. Shane, C. A. Wirtanen, B. A. Vorontsov-Velyaminov, and George Abell. In the '60s and '70s, the subject of the distribution of nearby galaxies was dominated by the prodigious work of Gerard and Antoinette de Vaucouleurs, who perceived the existence of a flattened Local Supercluster when others ridiculed the notion or ignored it. This atlas is dedicated to them.
There has been an explosion of interest in the subject during the last decade. A tremendous amount of new information is becoming available on the structure in the distribution of galaxies. It is possible to study our immediate neighborhood in the greatest detail, but then it is essential that the entire sky be surveyed with reasonable uniformity. At the present time, it is just the domain explored in this atlas that has been reasonably uniformly searched.
Soon enough, the patchwork of much deeper surveys presently underway will fill in and we will have even more exciting information about the astonishing fabric of our Universe.
R. Brent Tully
Institute for Astronomy
University of Hawaii
Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A.
J. Richard Fisher
National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Greenbank, West Virginia, U.S.A.