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Famous Astronomers and Astrophysicists

Famous Astronomers and Astrophysicists

Classical Period Nicolaus Copernicus 1473-1543
Polish developed a simple heliocentric model of the solar system that explained planetary retrograde motion and overturned Greek astronomy Tycho Brahe 1546-1601
Danish observed a supernova now known as “Tycho’s supernova”; made the most precise observations of stellar and planetary positions then known Galileo Galilei 1564-1642
Italian performed fundamental observations, experiments, and mathematical analyses in astronomy and physics; discovered mountains and craters on the moon, the phases of Venus, and the four largest satellites of Jupiter: Io, Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede Johannes Kepler 1571-1630
German established the most exact astronomical tables then known; established the three laws of planetary motion John Babtist Riccioli 1598-1671
Italian made telescopic lunar studies and published detailed lunar maps in which he introduced much nomenclature for lunar objects; discovered the first double star (Mizar) Giovanni Cassini 1625-1712
Italian-born French measured rotational periods of Jupiter and Mars; discovered four satellites of Saturn and the gap in Saturn’s rings now known as “Cassini’s division” Christiaan Huygens 1629-1695
Dutch discovered Saturn’s first satellite, Titan, and the true shape of Saturn’s rings Sir Isaac Newton 1643-1727
English developed theories of gravitation and mechanics, and invented differential calculus Edmond Halley 1656-1742
British used his theory of cometary orbits to predict that the comet of 1682 (later named “Halley’s comet”) was periodic Charles Messier 1730-1817
French discovered 19 comets, 13 being original and 6 independent co-discoveries; compiled a famous catalog of deep-sky objects Joseph-Louis Lagrange 1736-1813
French developed new methods of analytical mechanics; made many theoretical contributions to astronomy, improving our understanding of lunar motion and the perturbing effects of planets on cometary orbits; found solution to 3-body problem showing there could be two points (now called Lagrange points) in orbit of Jupiter where minor planets could stay almost indefinitely – the Trojan group of asteroids were later discovered at these positions William Herschel 1738-1822
British discovered Uranus and its two brightest moons, Titania and Oberon; discovered Saturn’s moons, Mimas and Enceladus; discovered the ice caps of Mars, several asteroids and binary stars; cataloged 2,500 deep sky objects Giuseppe Piazzi 1746-1826
Italian discovered the largest asteroid, Ceres; accurately measured positions of many stars, resulting in a star catalog Johann Bode 1747-1826
German popularized a relationship giving planetary distances from the Sun, which became known as “Bode’s law”; predicted an undiscovered planet between Mars and Jupiter, where the asteroids were later found Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827
French made important mathematical contributions to differential equations; promoted the solar nebula hypothesis for the origin of the solar system Caroline Herschel 1750-1848
British discovered several comets and was first woman to discover a comet Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers 1758-1840
German invented first successful method for calculating cometary orbits; discovered several comets, including the comet of 1815, now called Olber’s comet; discovered the asteroids Pallas and Vesta; posed the famous Olber’s paradox: “Why is the night sky dark?” Friedrich Bessel 1784-1846
Prussian first to measure distance to the star 61 Cygni; proposed that Sirius has an unseen companion; worked out the mathematical analysis of what are now known as Bessel functions Joseph von Fraunhofer 1787-1826
German made detailed wavelength measurements of hundreds of lines in the solar spectrum; designed an achromatic objective lens Johann Franz Encke 1791-1865
German discovered the first short-period comet, now called Encke’s comet Friedrich von Struve 1793-1864
German-born Russian founded the study of double stars; published catalog of over 3000 binary stars; first to measure distance to the star Vega Wilhelm Beer 1797-1850
German prepared and published maps of the Moon and Mars Thomas Henderson 1798-1844
Scottish first to measure distance to a star (Alpha Centauri) William Lassell 1799-1880
British discovered Triton, the largest satellite of Neptune Sir George Airy 1801-1892
British improved orbital theory of Venus and the Moon; studied interference fringes in optics; made a mathematical study of the rainbow Urbain Le Verrier 1811-1877
French accurately predicted the position of Neptune, which led to its discovery Johann Gottfried Galle 1812-1910
German first person to observe Neptune, based on calculations by French mathematician, Urbain Le Verrier; however, Neptune’s discovery is usually credited to Le Verrier and English astronomer, John Crouch Adams, who first predicted its position Anders Ångström 1814-1874
Swedish discovered hydrogen in the solar spectrum; source of the Angstrom unit Daniel Kirkwood 1814-1895
American discovered the “Kirkwood gaps” in the orbits of the asteroids between Mars and Jupiter; explained the gaps in Saturn’s rings William Huggins 1824-1910
British first to show that some nebulae, including the great nebula in Orion, have pure emission spectra and thus must be gaseous Sir Joseph Lockyer 1836-1920
British discovered in the solar spectrum a previously unknown element that he named helium Henry Draper 1837-1882
American made first photograph of a stellar spectrum (that of Vega); later photographed spectra of over a hundred stars and published them in a catalog; studied spectrum of Orion Nebula, which he showed was a dust cloud Edward Charles Pickering 1846-1919
American discovered the first spectroscopic binary star, Mizar Jacobus Cornelius Kapteyn 1851-1922
Dutch discovered that the proper motions of stars were not random, but stars could be divided into two streams moving in opposite directions, representing the rotation of our galaxy Edward Barnard 1857-1923
American discovered eight comets and Almathea, the fifth moon of Jupiter; also discovered star with largest proper motion, now called Barnard’s star Nobel Laureates Hannes Alvén 1908-1995
Swedish developed the theory of magnetohydrodynamics Subramanyan Chandrasekhar 1910-1995
Indian-born American made important theoretical contributions concerning the structure and evolution of stars, especially white dwarfs William Fowler 1911-1995
American carried out extensive experimental studies of nuclear reactions of astrophysical significance; developed, with others, a complete theory of the formation of chemical elements in the universe Antony Hewish 1924-
British led the research group that discovered the first pulsar Arno A. Penzias 1933-
German-born American co-discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation Robert W. Wilson 1936-
American co-discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation Joseph H. Taylor, Jr. 1941-
American co-discovered the first binary pulsar Russell Alan Hulse 1950-
American co-discovered the first binary pulsar Others Annie Jump Cannon 1863-1941
American classified spectra of many thousands of stars; published catalogs of variable stars (including 300 she discovered) Maximilian Wolf 1863-1932
German discovered hundreds of asteroids using photography George E. Hale 1868-1938
American revolutionized spectral observations by inventing and using the spectroheliograph; discovered magnetic fields in sunspots; first astronomer to be officially called an astrophysicist; founded the Yerkes, Mt. Wilson, and Palomar Observatories Henrietta Swan Levitt 1868-1921
American discovered the period-luminosity relation for Cepheid variables Willem de Sitter 1872-1934
Dutch studied the astronomical consequences of Einstein’s theory of general relativity; deduced that a near-empty universe would expand Ejnar Hertzsprung 1873-1967
Danish invented the color-magnitude diagram; by studying star clusters, independently discovered the relationship between absolute magnitude and spectral types of stars; a plot of this relationship is now called a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram (or H-R diagram); determined distance to the Small Magellanic Cloud Karl Schwarzchild 1873-1916
German first to give an exact solution of Einstein’s equations of general relativity, giving an understanding of the geometry of space near a point mass; also made the first study of black holes Kiyotsugu Hirayama 1874-1943
Japanese discovered the existence of groups of asteroids with similar orbital elements. He hypothesized that the asteroids in these families (now called Hirayama families) were physically related Vesto M. Slipher 1875-1969
American first to measure the radial velocity of the Andromeda galaxy Walter Sydney Adams 1876-1956
American identified Sirius B as the first white dwarf star known Henry Norris Russell 1877-1957
American used photographic methods to measure stellar parallaxes, leading to the discovery of the relationship between absolute magnitude and spectral types of stars; a plot of this relationship is now called a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram (or H-R diagram) Bernhard Schmidt 1879-1935
Swedish-born German invented and constructed the first Schmidt reflecting telescope using a corrector plate he devised to eliminate aberration of the image Arthur S. Eddington 1882-1944
British first to confirm Einstein’s prediction that light will bend near a star; discovered the mass-luminosity relation for stars; theoretically explained the pulsation of Cepheid variables Harlow Shapley 1885-1972
American discovered the size of our galaxy and the direction of its center by studying the distribution of globular clusters; determined the orbits of many eclipsing binary stars Edwin Hubble 1889-1953
American first to measure distance to the Andromeda nebula, establishing it to be a separate galaxy; later measured distances to other galaxies and discovered that they recede at a rate proportional to their distance (Hubble’s law) Walter Baade 1893-1960
German-born American discovered the asteroids Hidalgo and Icarus; established two different stellar classes: the younger, hotter “Population I” and the older, cooler “Population II” Georges-Henri Lemaitre 1894-1966
Belgian advanced idea that the Universe originated as a small, dense “cosmic egg” that exploded and set its expansion into motion Rudolph Minkowski 1895-1976
German divided supernovae into Types I and II; optically identified many of the early radio sources Bernard-Ferdinand Lyot 1897-1952
French invented the coronagraph Otto Struve 1897-1963
Russian-born American made detailed spectroscopic studies of close binary stars; discovered interstellar matter (H II regions) Fritz Zwicky 1898-1974
Swiss-American observed Coma cluster of galaxies and determined that most of the cluster must be “dark matter”; proposed existence of and then observed dwarf galaxies; proposed existence of supernovas (a term he coined) and that their collapse might lead to neutron stars; anticipated discovery of quasars by proposing that compact blue galaxies might be mistaken for stars; anticipated that dark matter could be studied by observing galaxies that acted as gravitational lenses Jan Hendrik Oort 1900-1992
Dutch calculated distance to center of galaxy; determined period for sun to complete one revolution of Milky Way; calculated the mass of the Milky Way; proposed existence of huge spherical cloud of icy comets (the Oort cloud) left behind from formation of the solar system Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin 1900-1979
English discovered that stars are composed primarily of hydrogren, with helium the second-most abundant element George Gamow 1904-1968
Russian-born American first suggested hydrogen fusion as source of solar energy Karl G. Jansky 1905-1950
American discovered radio waves from space, thereby pioneering the birth of radio astronomy Gerard P. Kuiper 1905-1973
Dutch-born American discovered Miranda, the fifth satellite of Uranus; discovered Nereid, the second satellite of Neptune; discovered the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s largest satellite; his spectroscopic studies of Uranus and Neptune led to discovery of comet-like debris at the edge of the solar system, now called “Kuiper’s belt” Bruno B. Rossi 1905-1993
Italian pioneer of x-ray astronomy and space plasma physics; participated in discovery of the first known x-ray source outside the solar system (Scorpius X-1) Bart Jan Bok 1906-1983
Dutch suggested that small dark globules of interstellar gas and dusk (now called Bok globules) are collapsing to form new stars Clyde Tombaugh 1906-1997
American discovered the planet Pluto Fred Whipple 1906-2004
American proposed the “dirty snowball” model of cometary structure Viktor Ambartsumian 1908-1996
Soviet one of the founders of theoretical astrophysics; first to suggest that T Tauri stars are very young and that nearby stellar associations are expanding Grote Reber 1911-2002
American built the first radio telescope (a parabolic reflector 31 feet in diameter), thereby becoming the first radio astronomer Carl K. Seyfert 1911-1960
American discovered the first active galaxy, part of a group now called Seyfert galaxies John A. Wheeler 1911-2008
American made theoretical contributions to understanding of quantum gravity; coined the term “black hole”; introduced the concept of “spacetime foam” Karl F. von Weizsäcker 1912-2005
German contributed to the development of the model nebular theory for the formation of the solar system; proposed (with Hans Bethe) the proton-proton reaction as the thermonuclear energy source for the sun James A. Van Allen 1914-2006
American a space scientist best known for discovering the Earth’s magnetosphere Sir Fred Hoyle 1915-2001
British proponent of the steady-state model of the universe; well-known author of science fiction; proposed that earliest forms of life were carried through space on comets and that these primitive forms of life found their way to Earth; derisively coined the term “Big Bang” for a cosmic theory with which he did not agree Robert H. Dicke 1916-1997
American proposed that radiation near 1-cm wavelength is left over from the hot Big Bang; invented the microwave radiometer, used to detect this radiation George H. Herbig 1920-2013
American independently discovered the Herbig-Haro objects, which are gas clouds associated with young stars E. Margaret Burbidge 1919-
British performed observational research on the spectra of quasars and other peculiar galaxies; contributed to understanding of stellar nucleosynthesis Thomas Gold 1920-2004
American contributed to our understanding of cosmology, the nature of pulsars as rotating neutron stars, and the origin of planetary hydrocarbons Chushiro Hayashi 1920-2010
Japanese discovered the pattern followed by pre-main-sequence stars on H-R diagrams (now called the Hayashi track); discovered the maximum radius for a star of a given mass (the Hayashi limit); made significant contributions to our understanding of Big Bang nucleosynthesis Edwin E. Salpeter 1924-2008
Austrian-born American explained how the triple-alpha reaction could make carbon from helium in stars; worked on atomic theory and quantum electrodynamics; co-developed the Bethe-Salpeter equation; contributed to nuclear astrophysics, stellar evolution, statistical mechanics, and plasma physics Allan R. Sandage 1926-2010
American identified the first quasar, and discovered many more; determined ages of many globular clusters Vera Rubin 1928-
American measured rotation curves for distant galaxies and ultimately concluded that 90% or more of the universe is made of invisible dark matter Irwin I. Shapiro 1929-
American implemented novel radio or radar techniques for various astrophysical research activities including solar-system tests of general relativity and studies of gravitational lenses and supernovae seeking to determine an accurate value for the Hubble constant Riccardo Giacconi 1931-
Italian pioneer of x-ray astronomy; participated in discovery of the first known x-ray source outside the solar system (Scorpius X-1) Sir Roger Penrose 1931-
British contributed to the development of general relativity by showing the necessity for cosmological singularities; elucidated the physics of black holes John N. Bahcall 1934-2005
American made important theoretical contributions to understanding solar neutrinos and quasars Carl Sagan 1934-1996
American was a leader in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence; contributed to most of the space missions to explore Mars and the outer planets; warned that all-out nuclear war could lead to a “nuclear winter” James W. Christy 1938-
American discovered Pluto’s satellite, Charon William K. Hartmann 1939-
American well-known painter of astronomical themes; co-developed the most widely accepted theory of the formation of the Moon (from the collision of a giant planetismal with the Earth at the close of the planet-forming period of the solar system) Kip S. Thorne 1940-
American contributed to the theoretical understanding of black holes and gravitational radiation; co-founded the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory Project (LIGO) Bernard F. Burke 1942-
American developed techniques for very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) using atomic frequency standards to synchronize radio telescopes at remote locations worldwide, leading to a 1000-fold improvement in angular resolution for radio telescopes; conducted first measurements of intercontinental and transcontinental VLBI Stephen W. Hawking 1942-2018
British combined general relativity with quantum theory to predict that black holes should emit radiation and evaporate Jocelyn Bell 1943-
British co-discovered the first pulsar Charles Thomas Bolton 1943-
American-born Canadian identified Cygnus X-1 as the first black hole James Ludlow Elliot 1943-2011
American discovered the rings of Uranus Alan H. Guth 1947-
American developed the theory of cosmic evolution known as the inflationary universe Paul F. Goldsmith 1948-
American director of National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center; developed techniques to study structure of dense molecular clouds where star formation is occurring Tadashi Nakajima
Japanese led the group that discovered the first Brown Dwarf Neil deGrasse Tyson 1958-
American best known for poplarizing science by hosting the television series NOVA ScienceNow and Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey Mike Brown 1965-
American discovered with his team many trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) including Eris, the first TNO discovered that is larger than Pluto, which eventually led to the demotion of Pluto to a dwarf planet

Famous Astronomers and Astrophysicists

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