Famous 20th Century Astronomers

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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 1 Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan.
Famous As: Astronomer, Astrophysicist, Writer
Birthdate: November 9, 1934
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died: December 20, 1996
Pulitzer- and Emmy-winning astrophysicist and author Carl Sagan was best known for co-writing the TV series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. His novel Contact was adapted into a film. He was known for his extensive research on extra-terrestrial life, had taught at major universities, and written countless papers and science books.

 2 Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin.
Famous As: Astronomer, University teacher
Birthdate: May 10, 1900
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Buckinghamshire
Died: December 7, 1979

After losing her father at 4, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was raised singlehandedly by her mother. The incredibly talented Cecilia studied at Cambridge but failed to secure a degree because of her gender. She later joined Harvard and opposing prevalent beliefs, proposed that stars were mainly made of hydrogen and helium. 

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 3 Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking.
Famous As: Theoretical Physicist, Cosmologist
Birthdate: January 8, 1942
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Oxford
Died: March 14, 2018

Stephen Hawking was an English theoretical physicist and cosmologist, who despite being afflicted motor neurone disease that severely limited his physical abilities, was able to build a phenomenally successful career. He was the first to set out a theory of cosmology explained by a union of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. Hawking was ranked 25 in the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons, in 2002.

 4 Clyde Tombaugh

Clyde Tombaugh.
Famous As: Astronomer, University teacher
Birthdate: February 4, 1906
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Streator
Died: January 17, 1997

Though he wasn’t formally educated in astronomy, Clyde Tombaugh was immensely interested in the subject since childhood and had built his own telescope after high school. He grew up to discover Pluto, then regarded as the ninth planet but later declared a "dwarf planet," and many other celestial bodies.

 5 Walter Lewin

Walter Lewin.
Famous As: Astronomer, University teacher, Astrophysicist, Physicist
Birthdate: January 29, 1936
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: The Hague

 6 J. Allen Hynek

J. Allen Hynek.
Famous As: Astronomer, Ufologist
Birthdate: May 1, 1910
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Chicago
Died: April 27, 1986

When the American government, baffled by unexplained sightings of flying objects, assigned J. Allen Hynek the task of solving the mystery, Hynek was sceptical. However, he later became the first person to scientifically analyze such sightings. He also established the "Close Encounter" classification system to study UFOs.

 7 Gerard Kuiper

Gerard Kuiper
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: December 7, 1905
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Tuitjenhorn, Netherlands
Died: December 24, 1973

Gerard Kuiper was blessed with an unusually sharp eyesight and could see stars clearly with the naked eye. The Dutch-born scientist later moved to the U.S., where he established the University of Arizona’s LPL. He also initiated research on the belt of comets surrounding the Sun, known as the Kuiper belt.

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 8 James Glaisher

James Glaisher
Famous As: Meteorologists
Birthdate: April 7, 1809
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Rotherhithe, London, England
Died: February 7, 1903

Renowned meteorologist and aeronaut James Glaisher was a pioneer of balloon flights and had penned the iconic book Travels in the Air. He had also contributed to the formation of the Meteorological Society and the Aeronautical Society of Britain. The 2019 movie The Aeronauts depicts his exploits as a balloonist.

 9 Fred Hoyle

Fred Hoyle
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: June 24, 1915
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Bingley, England
Died: August 20, 2001

Fred Hoyle was an English astronomer known for his theory of stellar nucleosynthesis. He spent most of his career at the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge, serving as its director for six years. He was also an author of science fiction novels, short stories, and plays and appeared in a series of radio talks on astronomy for the BBC.  

 10 Jayant Narlikar

Jayant Narlikar
Famous As: Physicist, Astronomer, Astrophysicist, Scientist, University teacher, Science fiction writer
Birthdate: July 19, 1938
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Kolhapur

Born to a math professor father and a Sanskrit scholar mother, Astrophysicist and IUCAA professor Jayant Narlikar grew up to collaborate with Sir Fred Hoyle, leading to the conformal gravity theory, also known as the Hoyle-Narlikar theory. He has won the Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan and penned sci-fi novels, too.

 11 Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Famous As: Astronomer, Astrophysicist
Birthdate: July 15, 1943
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Belfast

Jocelyn Bell Burnell is an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland. As a postgraduate student, she discovered the first radio pulsars. She graduated from the University of Glasgow and pursued an academic career. In 2018, she received the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for her discovery of radio pulsars. She donated the three million dollars she received as prize money.  

 12 Max Tegmark

Max Tegmark
Famous As: Physicist, Astronomer, Astrophysicist
Birthdate: May 5, 1967
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Sweden

Born to math professor Harold S. Shapiro, Max Tegmark grew up to co-establish the Future of Life Institute, with funding from Elon Musk. The MIT professor is a specialist in cosmology, physics, and machine learning and had also penned a book on artificial intelligence, titled Life 3.0.

 13 Eugene Merle Shoemaker

Eugene Merle Shoemaker
Famous As: Geologist
Birthdate: April 28, 1928
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States
Died: July 18, 1997

Best known for discovering the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet, with his wife, Carolyn, and David H. Levy, Eugene Merle Shoemaker was an American astrogeologist who had also worked with the U.S. Geological Survey. He had been part of NASA’s lunar exploration missions. Following his death, his ashes were transported to the Moon.

 14 Williamina Fleming

Williamina Fleming
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: May 15, 1857
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Dundee, Scotland
Died: May 21, 1911

Born in Scotland, Williamina Fleming moved to the U.S. with her husband, where she began working as a housekeeper for Harvard Observatory director Edward C. Pickering. Pickering secured her a job at the observatory, and Fleming went on to establish a classification and cataloguing system for stars.

 15 Lawrence M. Krauss

Lawrence M. Krauss
Famous As: Astronomer, Physicist, Astrophysicist, Academic, Non-fiction writer, University teacher, Theoretical physicist
Birthdate: May 27, 1954
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: New York City

American-Canadian theoretical physicist Lawrence M. Krauss has taught at institutes such as ASU and Yale and also penned several bestselling books. Known for his research on dark energy and zero-energy states, he was later accused of sexual misconduct and thus lost the directorship of the ASU’s Origins Project.

 16 Michael E. Brown

Michael E. Brown
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: June 5, 1965
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Huntsville
Princeton and UCB alumnus and Caltech professor Michael E. Brown is credited with discovering many "dwarf planets" and was the man behind Pluto’s demotion from a planet to a "dwarf planet." Named to Wired Online's 2006 list of the Top Ten Sexiest Geeks, he has also authored a bestselling memoir.

 17 Eric W. Weisstein

Eric W. Weisstein
Famous As: Mathematician, Astronomer, Non-fiction writer
Birthdate: March 18, 1969
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Bloomington

Famous for creating and maintaining MathWorld, the most widely accessed internet site for mathematical resources, Eric W. Weisstein is an encyclopedist who began compiling scientific encyclopedias as a high school student. Author of the bestselling book, CRC Concise Encyclopedia of Mathematics, he is also credited with creating ScienceWorld website.

 18 Jan Oort

Jan Oort
Famous As: Astronomer, Scientist, University teacher
Birthdate: April 28, 1900
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Franeker
Died: November 5, 1992

 19 Antony Hewish

Antony Hewish.
Famous As: Radio Astronomer
Birthdate: May 11, 1924
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Fowey, Cornwall, England

Radio astronomer and physicist Antony Hewish is best known for his Nobel Prize-winning research on pulsars. Apart from teaching at Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, he has also served as an advisory council member for the Campaign for Science and Engineering. He also has six honorary degrees to his credit.       

 20 Geoffrey Marcy

Geoffrey Marcy
Famous As: Astronomer, Physicist, University teacher
Birthdate: September 29, 1954
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: St. Clair Shores

American astronomer Geoffrey Marcy is best known for his use of Doppler shifts in discovering many extrasolar planets, which paved way for discovery of several hundred planetary bodies in multiple star systems. Seventy of the first hundred known exoplanets were discovered by Marcy and his research teams, who also detected the first planetary system around a Sun-like star, Upsilon Andromedae

 21 Karl Gordon Henize

Karl Gordon Henize
Famous As: Astronomer, Astronaut, Scientist
Birthdate: October 17, 1926
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Cincinnati
Died: October 5, 1993

Karl Gordon Henize was a space scientist and astronaut who authored seventy papers on astronomy. He was posted at various observatories round the world. Later on, he joined NASA as scientist-astronaut and flew on space shuttle Challenger as a mission specialist.

 22 Hannes Alfvén

Hannes Alfvén
Famous As: Physicist, Astronomer, Astrophysicist, Engineer, University teacher
Birthdate: May 30, 1908
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Norrköping
Died: April 2, 1995

 23 Thomas Gold

Thomas Gold
Famous As: Professor
Birthdate: May 22, 1920
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Vienna, Austria
Died: June 22, 2004

Austrian-born astrophysicist Thomas Gold is best-remembered for proposing the steady state theory of the universe and for his deep gas hypothesis through which he re-defined the abiogenic hypothesis and made it popular in the West. He served as professor of astronomy at Cornell University and remained a member of National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society.

 24 Gerard K. O'Neill

Gerard K. O'Neill
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: February 6, 1927
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States
Died: April 27, 1992

American physicist and space activist Gerard K. O'Neill is noted for inventing the particle storage ring for high-energy physics experiments and for proposing and advocating colonization of space. He proposed the space settlement concept O'Neill cylinder in his award-winning book The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space, invented a magnetic launcher called mass driver and founded the Space Studies Institute.

 25 Riccardo Giacconi

Riccardo Giacconi
Famous As: Astrophysicist
Birthdate: October 6, 1931
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Genoa
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Riccardo Giacconi was a pioneer in the field of X-ray astronomy. Born in Italy, he later went to the U.S. to pursue his research as a Fulbright scholar. He was the man behind the launch of the Einstein Observatory and the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

 26 Karl Guthe Jansky

Karl Guthe Jansky
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: October 22, 1905
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Norman, Oklahoma, United States
Died: February 14, 1950

Karl Guthe Jansky was an American physicist and radio engineer. He first discovered radio waves emanating from the Milky Way in August 1931. However, due to his lack of formal training as an astronomer, research into radio astronomy remained dormant for many years. Later on, he came to be widely regarded as one of the founding figures of radio astronomy. 

 27 Carolyn S. Shoemaker

Carolyn S. Shoemaker
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: June 24, 1929
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Gallup, New Mexico, United States

Carolyn S. Shoemaker is an American astronomer best known as a co-discoverer of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. A prolific discoverer of comets, she once held the record for most comets discovered by an individual. She was married to geologist Eugene Shoemaker and often collaborated with him. The couple was awarded the James Craig Watson Medal in 1998. 

 28 Lyman Spitzer

Lyman Spitzer
Famous As: Astronomer, Astrophysicist, Physicist, University teacher
Birthdate: June 26, 1914
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Toledo
Died: March 31, 1997

Lyman Spitzer was an American theoretical physicist, mountaineer, and astronomer. He was known for his research into star formation and plasma physics. He is credited with the invention of the stellarator plasma device and he was the one who first conceived the idea of telescopes operating in outer space. He was a founding member of the World Cultural Council. 

 29 Margaret Burbidge

Margaret Burbidge
Famous As: Astrophysicist
Birthdate: August 12, 1919
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Davenport,England

Margaret Burbidge was a British-American observational astronomer and astrophysicist. She was the first author of the influential B2FH paper and one of the founders of stellar nucleosynthesis. She held several leadership and administrative posts and was well known for her work opposing discrimination against women in astronomy. In 1988, she was awarded the Albert Einstein World Award of Science. 

 30 George Darwin

George Darwin
Famous As: Barrister
Birthdate: July 9, 1845
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Down House, Downe, Kent, England
Died: December 7, 1912

 31 Seth Shostak

Seth Shostak
Famous As: Astronomer, Radio personality
Birthdate: July 20, 1943
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Mountain View

Best known as a senior astronomer of the SETI Institute, Seth Shostak has also been seen on the radio show Big Picture Science. He has also appeared as himself or as an astronomer in numerous films and TV series such as The Day the Earth Stood Still and Alien Encounters.

 32 Martin Ryle

Martin Ryle.
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: September 27, 1918
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Brighton
Died: October 14, 1984

Martin Ryle was an English radio astronomer famous for developing revolutionary radio telescope systems. Along with fellow radio astronomer Derek Vonberg, he published interferometric astronomical measurements at radio wavelengths. Ryle and Antony Hewish were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1974 for their astronomical research. Ryle became more involved in social and political issues in his later years. 

 33 James Jeans

James Jeans
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: September 11, 1877
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: London, England
Died: September 16, 1946

James Jeans was an English physicist, astronomer, and mathematician who made great contributions to the areas of quantum theory, the theory of radiation, and stellar evolution. Along with Arthur Eddington, Jeans is a founder of British cosmology. He spent his academic career at Trinity College, Cambridge, and the Princeton University. He received the Royal Medal in 1919. 

 34 Robert H. Dicke

Robert H. Dicke
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: May 6, 1916
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Died: March 4, 1997

American astronomer and Princeton University physicist Robert H. Dicke is best known for making significant contributions in the fields of atomic physics, astrophysics, gravity and cosmology. He designed and introduced the Dicke radiometer, the most common form of microwave radiometer; developed the Brans–Dicke theory of gravitation with Carl H. Brans; and is generally believed to have invented the lock-in amplifier.

 35 Willem de Sitter

Willem de Sitter
Famous As: Mathematician
Birthdate: May 6, 1872
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Sneek, Netherlands
Died: November 20, 1934

 36 Harold Jeffreys

Harold Jeffreys
Famous As: Mathematical statistician
Birthdate: April 22, 1891
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Fatfield, Washington, England
Died: March 18, 1989

 37 Alexei Filippenko

Alexei Filippenko
Famous As: Astronomer, Astrophysicist, University teacher
Birthdate: July 25, 1958
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Oakland

Renowned astrophysicist Alexei Filippenko, who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, is primarily focused on supernovae and galaxies. Apart from writing 900 research papers, he has also penned a bestselling book and appeared on programs such as The Universe. He loves tennis and often travels to view solar eclipses.

 38 Otto Schmidt

Otto Schmidt
Famous As: Scientist
Birthdate: September 30, 1891
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Mahilyow, Belarus
Died: September 7, 1956

 39 Guy Consolmagno

Guy Consolmagno
Famous As: Astronomer, School teacher, Writer, Planetary scientist
Birthdate: September 19, 1952
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Detroit

 40 Norman Lockyer

Norman Lockyer
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: May 17, 1836
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Rugby, Warwickshire, England
Died: August 16, 1920

 41 Edward Charles Pickering

Edward Charles Pickering
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: July 19, 1846
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Died: February 3, 1919

Astronomer and physicist Edward Charles Pickering was the man behind the first physics lab in the U.S. during his tenure as an MIT professor. Apart from inventing the meridian photometer and releasing the first photometric catalog, Harvard Photometry, he had also served as the director of the Harvard College Observatory.

 42 Otto Struve

Otto Struve
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: August 12, 1897
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Kharkiv, Ukraine
Died: April 6, 1963

Born into the famous Russian astronomer Struve family, Otto Struve began his career in the USA as a staff member at Yerkes Observatory, investigating stellar spectroscopy. Later, he focused mainly on binary and variable stars, stellar rotation and interstellar matter. He established the presence of hydrogen in interstellar space, a discovery that played significant part in the development of radio astronomy.

 43 Samuel Pierpont Langley

Samuel Pierpont Langley
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: August 22, 1834
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Roxbury, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died: February 27, 1906

Astrophysicist Samuel Pierpont Langley had worked as an engineer before he taught physics and astronomy at the Western University of Pennsylvania. He later took over as the director of the Allegheny Observatory. He is best remembered for his research on solar radiation and for inventing the bolometer.

 44 William Huggins

William Huggins
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: February 7, 1824
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Cornhill, Middlesex, England
Died: May 12, 1910

 45 Aleksander Wolszczan

Aleksander Wolszczan
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: April 29, 1946
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Szczecinek

 46 Walter Baade

Walter Baade
Birthdate: 0000 AD
Birthplace: Preußisch Oldendorf

Born to a schoolteacher in Germany, Walter Baade began his career at the Hamburg Observatory and made minor celestial discoveries. He later moved to the U.S. in search of better astronomical technology. He also discovered population I and population II stellar types and, along with Fritz Zwicky, coined the word supernova.

 47 Jacobus Cornelius Kapteyn

Jacobus Cornelius Kapteyn
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: January 19, 1851
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Barneveld, Netherlands
Died: June 18, 1922

 48 Nikolay Aleksandrovich Kozyrev

Nikolay Aleksandrovich Kozyrev
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: September 2, 1908
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Died: February 27, 1983

 49 Helen Sawyer Hogg

Helen Sawyer Hogg
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: August 1, 1905
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Lowell, Massachusetts, United States
Died: January 28, 1993

Initially interested in chemistry, Helen Sawyer Hogg later switched to astronomy. Hogg moved from the U.S. to Canada with her astronomer husband and became the founding president of the Canadian Astronomical Society. One of the first major female astronomers, she was a globular cluster expert and also wrote astronomy columns regularly.

 50 William Wallace Campbell

William Wallace Campbell
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: April 11, 1862
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Hancock County, Ohio, United States
Died: June 14, 1938

Though William Wallace Campbell initially studied civil engineering, he later developed a love for astronomy. Starting his career as a math professor, he later taught astronomy and became the director of the Lick Observatory. He is best remembered for his research on astronomical spectroscopy and binary stars.