famous astronomers

Famous Astronomers A-Z

Famous Astronomers All-Time List A-Z

Astronomy is the study of everything that originates outside Earth’s atmosphere. It’s a “natural science” based on observation, experimentation and empirical evidence. The famous astronomers in ADDucation’s list span both ancient and modern civilizations. Cosmology is a branch of astronomy which studies the Universe as a whole.

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Famous Astronomers Born Died Country Fields + Awards Famous Astronomers General Knowledge Facts & Trivia
al-Khwārizmī, Muḥammad ibn Mūsā c780 c850 Iran. Mathematics and astronomy. Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi formalized the Arabic numerals 0-9, which he transferred from the Indians. The four basic arithmetic operations (+-×÷), algebra and algorithms all derive from the Latin spelling of his name. One of the first famous astronomers in history. Al-Khwarizmi’s astronomical tables contain movements of the sun, moon and five known planets.
Anaxagoras c510 BC c428 BC Greece. Astronomy and philosophy. Anaxagoras was an all-rounder and one of many famous ancient Greek astronomers. He founded meteorology, found the causes of wind, clouds, thunder and lightning, moon phases and eclipses. Anaxagoras also conducted experiments on the body, the brain and more.
Aristarchus of Samos c310 BC c230 BC Greece. Astronomy and mathematics. Aristarchus of Samos calculated the distance from the sun to the moon and their sizes. He was the first to explain the heliocentric system (the earth revolving around the sun) and the sphere of fixed stars. Copernicus later took over his teachings.
Bradley, James 1693 1762 Great Britain. Astronomy. James Bradley discovered in 1725 the aberration of light (proof of the heliocentric worldview) and calculated from this the speed of light: 300,000 km a second.
Braun, Wernher von 1912 1977 Germany. Physics, astronomy. Wernher von Braun was a significant rocket designer. He launched rockets in 1934 already and later developed the V2 in Nazi Germany. In 1945, he emigrated to the United States where, as a NASA employee, he and other famous astronomers, constructed the first moon rockets.
Cassini, Giovanni Domenico 1625 1712 Italy / France. Astronomy and engineering. Giovanni Cassini measured the rotational period of Mars and Jupiter. He discovered four moons of Saturn; Iapetus, Rhea, Tethys and Dione and the Cassini division -the black gap in the rings of Saturn. NASA named its 1997 satellite, which orbited Saturn and its moons, after Cassini. In 1672 Cassini, in Paris, and Jean Richer, in French Guiana, made simultaneous observations of Mars. They used the principle of parallax to calculate the distance between Earth and Mars. Together with existing planetary distances and ratios Cassini calculated the size of the Solar System.
Celsius, Anders 1701 1744 Sweden. Astronomy. Anders Celsius initially proposed determining the boiling point of water at 0 and the freezing point at 100 degrees. It wasn’t until a year after his death, in 1745, that this scale was turned on its head by Carl Linnaeus and freezing point became zero.
Copernicus, Nicholas
1473 1543 Germany / Poland. Astronomy and mathematics. Nicolaus Copernicus shattered the old worldview in 1543. Copernicus found the Earth, which rotates on its own axis every 24 hours, is one of many planets revolving around the fixed sun. He further concluded the moon rotates in circular orbits around the Earth and that fixed stars don’t move.
Da Vinci, Leonardo 1452 1519 Italy. Medicine, physics and astronomy. Leonardo da Vinci was not only an artistic genius but also a doctor, architect, astronomer and engineer. His irrepressible curiosity drove him to explore (almost) everything and is one of the best known famous astronomers. Da Vinci studied humankind and nature and drew hundreds of anatomical drawings. He developed hydraulics, supervised the construction of canals, locks and aqueducts, and is considered the inventor of portable bridges, flamethrowers, tanks, submarines, parachutes as well as tools such as levers, saws, heating and lighting systems.
Eudoxus of Cnidus c408 BC c355 BC Greece. Mathematics and astronomy. Eudoxus was the creator of the doctrine of ratio equations and volume calculations for circles, spheres, cones and pyramids. Physician and teacher of Menaechmus (380-320 BC), who discovered the ellipse, parabola and hyperbola.
Fraunhofer, Joseph of 1787 1826 Germany. Astronomy. Josef von Fraunhofer created the telescope with which Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel (1784-1846) was able to measure the parallax of a fixed star. He improved lenses and prisms, and through experiments with light found hundreds of spectral lines.
Galilei, Galileo 1564 1642 Italy. Astronomy, physics and chemistry. Galileo Galilei is the founder of the fields of dynamics mechanics and acoustics. He discovered the laws of falling bodies, ballistics and pendulums, and confirmed Copernicus‘ heliocentric view of the world through astronomical observations using a telescope he’d also improved. In this way, he first saw the moon’s surface and many other stars. The scientific genius also examined gases and proved that air has a weight of its own and is, therefore, also matter. One of the most famous astronomers of all time.
Halley, Edmond 1656 1742 Great Britain. Astronomy, mathematics and physics. Edmond Halley was the second Astronomer Royal. His observations were published in “Catalogus stellarum australium” (star maps). In his 1705 “A synopsis of the astronomy of comets” Halley concluded the comets of 1531, 1607, and 1682 were the same comet and that it would return in 1758. It became known as Halley’s Comet. He later explained geomagnetic phenomena including auroras.
Hawking, Stephen 1942 2018 Great Britain. Astrophysics, cosmology and mathematics. Despite suffering from ALS (motor neurone disease) for over 50 years, the English physicist Stephen Hawking researched the black holes of our universe. He wrote the 1988 bestseller A Brief History of Time and in 2001 The Universe in a Nutshell. Hawking was one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century and joins this list of famous astronomers in history.
Herschel, Caroline Lucretia 1750 1848 Germany. Astronomy. Lucretia Herschel’s greatest contributions to astronomy included discovering a number of comets like the comet 35P/Herschel-Rigollet, which is named after her. Her brother was William Herschel, who was a famous astronomer in his own right. They collaborated closely on their work. From 1786 to 1797 she discovered a total of 8 comets. She also played a great role in cataloguing nebulae and clusters of stars. Her work was recognized with various honors such as a Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society, and another from the King of Prussia on her 96th birthday. One of the greatest female astronomers of the 18th century.
Herschel, William 1738 1822 Germany / Great Britain. Astronomy and mathematics. William Herschel was a dedicated astronomer who observed the night sky through his home-made telescope. Herschel discovered the planet Uranus, the Milky Way and concluded all stars are suns. Herschel was one of the most famous astronomers of all time.
Hipparchos c190 BC c120 BC Greece. Astronomy and mathematics. Observed over 1000 stars and recorded them in a catalog and a map of the sky. Hipparchos calculated the length of the sun’s and of the sidereal year as well as the lunar month. He is considered the founder of trigonometry.
Hubble, Edwin 1889 1953 USA. Astronomy and physics. In 1925, Edwin Hubble proved that the “Andromeda Nebula M31” lies far beyond our Milky Way and thereby prepared for the discovery (by Georges Lemaître) of the expansion of the universe. One of the most famous astronomers of all time.
Huygens, Christian 1629 1695 The Netherlands. Physics, mathematics and astronomy. Jack of all trades. Discovered the rings of Saturn with a self-made telescope, constructed new pendant and pocket watches, explained the theory of probability, described the so-called impact law, founded a new theory of light and dealt with vibration and circular motion (centrifugal force).
Jump Cannon, Annie   1863 1941 USA. Astronomy. Annie Jump Cannon was a famous astronomer for the “Harvard Classification Scheme” which classified stars based on their temperatures and spectral types. She classified over 300,000 stellar bodies, more than any other person, which earned her the nickname “Census Taker of the Sky”. In 1925 Cannon became the first female recipient of an honorary doctorate from Oxford University. In 1929 Annie Jump Cannon was chosen by the League of Women Voters as one of the “greatest living American women” and in 1994 Cannon was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Kepler, Johannes 1571 1630 Germany. Astronomy and mathematics. Johannes Kepler discovered the laws of planetary motion (ellipses) and recorded a profile of star orbits. His calculations used integrals and logarithms for the first time. Kepler also confirmed discoveries made by Galileo Galilei.
Kirch, Maria Margarethe 1670 1720 Germany. Mathematics and Astronomy. Maria Kirch, born Winkelmann, was one of the first famous astronomers due to her writings on the conjunction of the sun with Saturn, Venus, and Jupiter. She was educated by her father, a minister, who believed girls deserved the same education as boys. Her husband, Gottfried Kirch, was a famous German astronomer and mathematician and 30 years older. They worked together as a team and had 4 children, all of whom also studied astronomy. In 1702, she became the first woman to discover a new comet, now known as the “Comet of 1702”, and published widely on astronomy. When her husband died, she tried to take his place at the Royal Academy of Sciences but the Academy refused. One of the greatest female scientists of the 17th century.
Lagrange, Joseph-Louis 1736 1813 Italy. Astronomy and mathematics. Joseph-Louis Lagrange was a maths professor at just 19 years old. He performed ground-breaking work in almost all areas of pure mathematics, he founded analytical mechanics (Lagrangian), solved the three-body problem in celestial mechanics (Lagrangian points), the calculus of variations and the theory of complex functions!
Laplace, Pierre Simon 1749 1827 France. Physics, mathematics and astronomy. Pierre Laplace lived through the French Revolution, Napoleon and the Bourbons all at close quarters. He still managed to focus on his probability theory (in games of chance), “celestial mechanics” (the calculation of planetary orbits, and the existence of black holes).
Leavitt, Henrietta Swan 1868 1921 USA. Astronomy. Henrietta Swan Leavitt was a human “computer” at the Harvard College Observatory. She examined photographic plates to catalog and measure the brightness of stars. Leavitt discovered a relationship between the luminosity and period of Cepheid variables. This made the stars the first “standard candle” in astronomy, known as “Leavitt’s law” today. Scientists use Leavitt’s law to compute distances to remote galaxies which are too remote for parallax observations. Hubble used Leavitt’s luminosity–period relationship together with Vesto Slipher’s galactic spectral shifts to formulate Hubble’s law to establish the universe is expanding.
Lemaître, Georges 1894 1966 Belgium. Cosmologist and a Catholic priest. Georges Lemaître is considered the father of the Big Bang theory. In his 1931 paper he proposed the shocking idea that the Universe was expanding, which solved related equations of General Relativity. Edwin Hubble validated this with his telescope showing distant galaxies receding. Lemaître concluded if the universe is expanding, then it must have originated at a finite point in time.
Messier, Charles 1730 1817 France. Astronomy. Frenchman Charles Messier discovered twenty comets, galaxies and distant stars along with other famous astronomers of his time, including William Herschel, Pierre Méchain, Jérome Lalande and Johann Encke.
Mitchell, Maria 1818 1889 USA. Astronomy. Maria Mitchell was the very first American female to become a professional astronomer. She discovered a comet in 1847, winning her a gold medal prize presented by King Frederick VI of Denmark. The comet was then named “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.” She was the first American woman to work as a professional astronomer and the first woman to be elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She later fought for equal pay at Vassar College, where she taught until one year before her death.
Newton, Sir Isaac 1642 1727 Great Britain. Physics, mathematics and astronomy. Isaac Newton was an introverted genius and child prodigy. As a child student in Cambridge Isaac Newton revolutionized the fields of mathematics (calculus), optics (color theory) and mechanics (universal gravitation, formulated after an apple fell from a tree hitting him on the head). Later Newton calculated Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, lunar orbit and tides, described the “binomial theorem”, devised formulas for calculating sound velocity and the penetrative power of missiles. In order to avoid frequent disturbances by his cat, he even developed the cat flap. Newton’s greatest work was the “Prinicipia Mathematica” in 1687. Newton is one of the most famous astronomers of all time.
Omar Khayyam 1048 1131 Persia. Mathematics, astronomy and philosophy. Perian Omar Khayyam solved cubic equations in an algebraic and geometric manner. He also examined the so-called “Pascal’s triangle” and irrational numbers. Khayyam also designed the Islamic calendar and was also a philosopher and a poet.
Payne-Gaposchkin, Cecila
1900 1979 Great Britain. Astronomy and astrophysics. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin’s 1925 doctoral thesis “Stellar Atmospheres; a Contribution to the Observational Study of High Temperature in the Reversing Layers of Stars” reached the groundbreaking conclusion that the composition of stars was related to the abundance of hydrogen and helium in the Universe. This contradicted the scientific wisdom of the time but was independently confirmed in 1929. Astronomer Otto Struve described Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin’s work as “The most brilliant PhD thesis ever written in astronomy“. Payne-Gaposchkin became an American citizen in 1931.
Ptolemy, Claudius c100 c169 Greece/ Egypt. Astronomy and geology. Claudius Ptolemy was a genius across many disciplines. He wrote extensive works on mathematics and astronomy (his major work: Almagest), geography (definition of latitude), music theory, optics (refraction) and philosophy.
Pythagoras c569 BC c475 BC Greece. Mathematics, philosophy and astronomy. Pythagoras was a notable philosopher (pre-Socratic) and famous mathematician, astronomer and scientist. Pythagoras founded a school called “The Semicircle of Pythagoras” which blended science and religion. It’s thought discoveries made by members were attributed to Pythagoras, possibly even Pythagoras’ Theorem. Pythagoras is one of the most famous astronomers of the late archaic period in Greece.
Sagen, Carl 1934 1996 USA. Astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology, planetary science and astrobiology. Carl Sagen’s research on extraterrestrial life demonstrated amino acids can be produced from basic chemicals by radiation. He published over 600 scientific papers. Sagen was author, or co-author, of over 20 books. Carl Sagan popularized science and was an excellent communicator. His 1980 TV series and book “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage” inspired millions of people worldwide. Sagen received dozens of awards including; Le Prix Galabert, Klumpke-Roberts and Masursky Astronomical awards. Emmy, Hugo, Peabody, Demosthenian Literary Society and Pulitzer media awards. Soviet Cosmonauts Federation and NASA Science and many other awards.

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