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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
23 Thomas Gold
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
31 Seth Shostak
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 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 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
46 Walter Baade
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.
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.
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.