Famous 20th Century Astrophysicists

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 1 
Neil deGrasse Tyson
(American Astrophysicist, Planetary Scientist and Science Communicator)
Neil deGrasse Tyson
39
Birthdate: October 5, 1958
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Manhattan, New York, United States

Public Welfare Medal-winning astrophysicist and academic Neil deGrasse Tyson hosted shows such as NOVA ScienceNow, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, and Star Talk. He is the director of Hayden Planetarium and contributed to the dismissal of Pluto’s status as the ninth planet. He has also written a monthly column as "Merlin.”

 2 
Carl Sagan
(Astronomer and Planetary Scientist Best Known for His Scientific Contribution in Research on Extraterrestrial Life)
Carl Sagan
15
Birthdate: November 9, 1934
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States
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.
 3 
Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar
(Astrophysicist Known for his 'Theoritical Studies of the Physical processes of importance to the Structure and Evolution of the Stars')
Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar
8
Birthdate: October 19, 1910
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Lahore, Pakistan
Died: August 21, 1995

Remembered for his varied contribution to astrophysics, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar is perhaps best known for his work on the evolution of massive stars. Today known as Chandrasekhar limit, it contributed to final understanding of supernovas, neutron stars, and black holes. A prolific writer, he also did significant work on energy transfer by radiation in stellar atmospheres and convection on solar surface.

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 4 
Walter Lewin
(Astronomer, University teacher, Astrophysicist, Physicist)
Walter Lewin
10
Birthdate: January 29, 1936
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: The Hague
 5 
J. Allen Hynek
(Astronomer, Ufologist)
J. Allen Hynek
8
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.

 6 
Meghnad Saha
(Indian Astrophysicist Who Developed the ‘Saha Ionisation Equation’ and ‘Thermal Ionisation’)
Meghnad Saha
3
Birthdate: October 6, 1893
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Bangladesh
Died: February 16, 1956

Indian astrophysicist Meghnad Saha is best remembered for developing the thermal ionization equation. A grocer’s son, he relied on merit alone to excel in academics and eventually became a professor at the universities of Allahabad and Calcutta. He was also a Lok Sabha MP and a Fellow of the Royal Society.

 7 
Vera Rubin
(American Astronomer Known for Her Pioneering Work on Galaxy Rotation Rates)
Vera Rubin
3
Birthdate: July 23, 1928
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: December 25, 2016

American astronomer Vera Rubin is best known for her pioneering discoveries on galaxy rotation rates, her groundbreaking work confirming the existence of dark matter and for her life-long advocacy for women in science. She studied the galactic rotation curves and provided strong evidence of the existence of dark matter. The Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile is named after her.

 8 
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin
(Astronomer, Astrophysicist)
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin
8
Birthdate: May 10, 1900
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Wendover, Buckinghamshire, England
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. 

 9 
Jocelyn Bell Burnell
(British Astrophysicist Who Discovered the First Radio Pulsars)
Jocelyn Bell Burnell
6
Birthdate: July 15, 1943
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Lurgan, Northern Ireland

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.  

 10 
Max Tegmark
(Physicist, Astronomer, Astrophysicist)
Max Tegmark
7
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.

 11 
Dilhan Eryurt
(Astrophysicist)
Dilhan Eryurt
8
Birthdate: November 29, 1926
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: İzmir, Turkey
Died: September 13, 2012
 12 
Martin Rees
(British Cosmologist and Astrophysicist)
Martin Rees
7
Birthdate: June 23, 1942
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: York, England

Born to educator parents, Martin Rees excelled in math since childhood. The cosmologist and astrophysicist later taught at Cambridge, Princeton, and Harvard. Known for his research on the big-bang theory, he also won awards such as the Templeton Prize and penned books such as Our Final Century.

 13 
Lawrence M. Krauss
(Astronomer, Physicist, Astrophysicist, Academic, Non-fiction writer, University teacher, Theoretical physicist)
Lawrence M. Krauss
7
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.

 14 
Michael Foale
(Only NASA Astronaut to have Flown Extended Missions Aboard both Mir & The International Space Station)
Michael Foale
5
Birthdate: January 6, 1957
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Louth, Lincolnshire, England

The first British astronaut to perform a space-walk, Michael Foale was also the only NASA astronaut to be on missions aboard both the Mir and the International Space Station. Born to a Royal Air Force pilot father, he was well-traveled. He was the only survivor of a car accident in Yugoslavia.

 15 
George F. Smoot
(American Astrophysicist, Cosmologist and Winner of 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics)
George F. Smoot
5
Birthdate: February 20, 1945
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Yukon, Florida, United States

Nobel Prize-winning physicist George F. Smoot is best known for his research on the big-bang model. He and his Nobel co-recipient, John C. Mather, helped NASA develop the COBE. He has also appeared on many TV shows and won a million dollars on Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?

 16 
Dennis W. Sciama
(Physicist, Astrophysicist)
Dennis W. Sciama
5
Birthdate: November 18, 1926
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Manchester
Died: December 18, 1999

Dennis W. Sciama was a British physicist credited to have played a major role in the development of British physics following World War II. He is considered a co-father of modern cosmology and supervised the doctoral works of many famous cosmologists, including Martin Rees and Stephen Hawking.  He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1983. 

 17 
Brian Schmidt
(Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University (ANU))
Brian Schmidt
5
Birthdate: February 24, 1967
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Missoula, Montana, United States

Nobel Prize-winning astronomer Brian Schmidt is best known for discovering what is known as dark energy of the universe. Born in the US, the Harvard alumnus later moved to Australia for his work. He has taught at the Australian National University and is now the university’s vice chancellor.

 18 
Margherita Hack
(Astrophysicist)
Margherita Hack
5
Birthdate: June 12, 1922
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Florence, Italy
Died: June 29, 2013
 19 
Jayant Narlikar
(Physicist, Astronomer, Astrophysicist, Scientist, University teacher, Science fiction writer)
Jayant Narlikar
7
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.

 20 
Conrad Schlumberger
(Geophysicist)
Conrad Schlumberger
5
Birthdate: October 2, 1878
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Guebwiller, France
Died: May 9, 1936

Along with his brother, Marcel Schlumberger, Conrad Schlumberger formed one of the most well-known geophysicist duos of Germany. A pioneer in petroleum production, he co-established Schlumberger Ltd., one of the world’s largest oil-field service companies, with Marcel. Their technique of oil exploration offered a cheap alternative than the existing coring methods.

 21 
Arno Allan Penzias
(American Physicist, Radio Astronomer and Winner of the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics)
Arno Allan Penzias
3
Birthdate: April 26, 1933
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Munich, Germany

American astrophysicist and Nobel laureate Arno Allan Penzias revolutionized science when he co-discovered the existence of a faint electromagnetic radiation, or the CMB radiation, on Earth, which supported the credibility of the Big-Bang Model. He had also been the VP and chief scientist at Bell Laboratories.

 22 
Hubert Reeves
(Popularizer of science, Astrophysicist, Science writer)
Hubert Reeves
3
Birthdate: July 13, 1932
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Montreal

Known as “The Poet of the Stars,” Canadian astrophysicist Hubert Reeves has been a NASA advisor. His research covers neutrinos and thermonuclear reactions in stars. Having penned numerous science and astronomy books such as Soleil, he is known as a popularizer of science and has an asteroid named after him.

 23 
John C. Mather
(Astrophysicist)
John C. Mather
4
Birthdate: August 7, 1946
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Roanoke, Virginia, United States
 24 
Adam Riess
(American Astrophysicist Known for His Research in 'Accelerating Universe / Dark Energy')
Adam Riess
2
Birthdate: December 16, 1969
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Washington, D.C., United States

Adam Guy Riess is an American astrophysicist, known for his work on Type Ia supernovae. Teaming up with Saul Perlmutter and Brian Schmidt, he started working on the supernovae, using it as cosmological probe, eventually discovering that the expansion rate of the universe is accelerating. He received the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work.

 25 
Robert Hofstadter
2
Birthdate: February 5, 1915
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: New York City
Died: November 17, 1990

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Robert Hofstadter is remembered for his path-breaking research on the structures of the particles of the atomic nuclei, such as protons and neutrons. The Princeton alumnus initially worked with the National Bureau of Standards, where he developed the proximity fuse, and then taught at Princeton and Stanford.

 26 
Jacob Bekenstein
(Theoretical Physicist Known for His Contributions to the Foundation of 'Black Hole Thermodynamics')
Jacob Bekenstein
3
Birthdate: May 1, 1947
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Mexico City, Mexico
Died: August 16, 2015

Jacob Bekenstein was born to Polish Jew immigrant parents in Mexico. The Rothschild Prize-winning physicist later also gained both American and Israeli citizenships. He is best remembered for his discovery of thermodynamic properties in black holes. The Princeton alumnus and Technion professor was also quite a religious man.

 27 
Hannes Alfvén
(Physicist, Astronomer, Astrophysicist, Engineer, University teacher)
Hannes Alfvén
2
Birthdate: May 30, 1908
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Norrköping
Died: April 2, 1995

Nobel Prize-winning Swedish electrical engineer Hannes Alfvén is best remembered for his research on plasma physics. He practically pioneered the field of magnetohydrodynamics, which deals with plasmas in magnetic fields. He also proposed the concept of plasma cosmology, challenging the big-bang model, and penned works such as Cosmic Plasma.

 28 
Lyman Spitzer
(Astronomer, Astrophysicist, Physicist, University teacher)
Lyman Spitzer
2
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 
Thomas Gold
(American Astrophysicist and Professor Known for His ‘Steady-State Theory')
Thomas Gold
2
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.

 30 
Alexei Filippenko
(Known for Studies of Supernovae, Active Galaxies, Black Holes, Accelerating Expansion of the Universe)
Alexei Filippenko
2
Birthdate: July 25, 1958
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Oakland, California, United States

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.

 31 
Riccardo Giacconi
(Astrophysicist)
Riccardo Giacconi
4
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.
 32 
Fang Lizhi
(Chinese Astrophysicist and Activist Who Partly Inspired the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests)
Fang Lizhi
4
Birthdate: February 12, 1936
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Beijing, China
Died: April 6, 2012

Chinese astrophysicist and activist Fang Lizhi inspired the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. The dissident was expelled from the Chinese Communist Party for his activities, but that didn’t stop his research, which took him to institutes in the US and Great Britain. He also taught at the University of Arizona.

 33 
Margaret Burbidge
(British-American Observational Astronomer and Astrophysicist Known for Her Contributions to the Theory of ‘Quasars')
Margaret Burbidge
2
Birthdate: August 12, 1919
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Davenport, Stockport, England
Died: April 5, 2020

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. 

 34 
Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr.
(Astrophysicist)
Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr.
2
Birthdate: March 29, 1941
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
 35 
William Alfred Fowler
(Nuclear Physicist and Astrophysicist)
William Alfred Fowler
2
Birthdate: August 9, 1911
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: March 14, 1995
 36 
Martin Schwarzschild
(Astrophysicist)
Martin Schwarzschild
2
Birthdate: May 31, 1912
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Potsdam, Germany
Died: April 10, 1997

Martin Schwarzschild was a German-American astrophysicist best remembered for his work in the fields of stellar evolution and stellar structure, which paved the way to an improved understanding of differential solar rotation, pulsating stars, hydrogen shell sources, the ages of star clusters, and the helium flash. In 1997, Martin Schwarzschild was honored with the prestigious National Medal of Science. 

 37 
Rashid Sunyaev
(Astrophysicist)
Rashid Sunyaev
1
Birthdate: March 1, 1943
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Tashkent, Uzbekistan
 38 
Andrew E. Lange
(Astrophysicist)
Andrew E. Lange
4
Birthdate: July 23, 1957
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Urbana, Illinois, United States
Died: January 22, 2010
 39 
Edward Bullard
(Geophysicist)
Edward Bullard
1
Birthdate: September 21, 1907
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Norwich, England
Died: April 3, 1980

A pioneer of marine geophysics, geophysicist Edward Bullard was best known for his work on geodynamo and seismology and was a professor at the University of Cambridge. Initially a nuclear physicist, he switched to geophysics to find a lucrative job during the Great Depression. He was eventually knighted for his achievements.

 40 
John N. Bahcall
(Astrophysicist)
John N. Bahcall
3
Birthdate: December 30, 1934
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Shreveport, Louisiana, United States
Died: August 17, 2005
Nikolay Aleksandrovich Kozyrev
1
Birthdate: September 2, 1908
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Died: February 27, 1983
 42 
Geoffrey Burbidge
(American Astrophysicist and Astronomer)
Geoffrey Burbidge
3
Birthdate: September 24, 1925
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, England
Died: January 26, 2010

English astrophysicist Geoffrey Burbidge is remembered for his pioneering work on the elements in stars and was one of the authors of the B2FH paper. Initially aspiring to study history, he switched to physics later. A Fellow of The Royal Society, he also won many awards with his wife, fellow astrophysicist Margaret Burbidge.

 43 
Dirk Frimout
(Astrophysicist for the ‘European Space Agency’ and the First Belgian Who Travelled into Space)
Dirk Frimout
1
Birthdate: March 21, 1941
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Poperinge, Belgium
 44 
Viktor Hambardzumyan
(One of the Top Astronomers of the 20th Century)
Viktor Hambardzumyan
1
Birthdate: September 18, 1908
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Tbilisi, Georgia
Died: August 12, 1996

Viktor Hambardzumyan was a Soviet Armenian science administrator and astrophysicist. One of the top astronomers of the 20th century, Ambartsumian is considered the founder of theoretical astrophysics. Viktor Hambardzumyan is also credited with founding the first department of astrophysics in the Soviet Union, which he accomplished at Leningrad State University in 1934.  

 45 
Edwin Ernest Salpeter
(Astrophysicist)
Edwin Ernest Salpeter
1
Birthdate: December 3, 1924
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Vienna, Austria
Died: November 26, 2008
 46 
James Edward Keeler
(American Astronomer Who Discovered the First 'Pulsar' and Observed the 'Rings of Saturn')
James Edward Keeler
1
Birthdate: September 10, 1857
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: La Salle, Illinois, United States
Died: August 12, 1900

James Edward Keeler initially worked at the Lick Observatory and later proved that the rings of Saturn aren’t solid but are made of tiny particles. He used the reflecting telescope for his astrophotography projects. He had also been the director of the Allegheny Observatory and had co-founded Astrophysical Journal.

 47 
David Schramm
(Educator)
David Schramm
1
Birthdate: October 25, 1945
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Died: December 19, 1997
 48 
Ken Freeman
(Astronomer)
Ken Freeman
1
Birthdate: August 27, 1940
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Perth, Australia
 49 
William Wilson Morgan
(American Astronomer and Astrophysicist Known for Helping Prove the Existence of Spiral Arms in Our Galaxy)
William Wilson Morgan
1
Birthdate: January 3, 1906
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Bethesda, Tennessee, United States
Died: June 21, 1994

Mostly known for his life-long association with the University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory, astronomer William Wilson Morgan was the first to prove that the Milky Way has spiral arms. Apart from co-developing the MK system of classification of stars, he also co-established the Bautz-Morgan classification system for clusters.

 50 
Gerson Goldhaber
(American Particle Physicist and Astrophysicist Who was One of the Discoverers of the 'J/ψ Meson')
Gerson Goldhaber
0
Birthdate: February 20, 1924
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Chemnitz, Germany
Died: July 19, 2010

Particle physicist Gerson Goldhaber is best remembered for discovering charm hadrons and dark energy. The son of German parents who had escaped the Nazis and started a tour guide service in Egypt, Goldhaber later moved to the US for research and gained a US citizenship, too.