Famous American Astronomers

W.A. Ward’s quote ‘curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning’ best defines man’s urge to know his surroundings and universe better. Ever since the field of science has evolved, scientists and astronomers have constantly struggled to understand the universe better. Over the centuries, many theories and calculations have resulted in a geocentric view of the space. From believing Milky Way as the only galaxy present in the universe to coming to terms with the presence of more than billion galaxies, the understanding of the universe has only bettered with time, thanks to the famous astronomers who dedicated their life to the study of cosmos. Every country has had a long list of astronomers who have significantly contributed through their discoveries and findings. Talking about American astronomers, they have greatly contributed right from the early days of astronomy to the modern era. Some of them include William K Hartmann, Edwin Hubble, Carl Sagan, Harlow Shapley, James Bauer, Frank Drake, Walter Sydney Adams and so on. Their findings and discoveries have helped educate people about the universe they live in. Update yourself by discovering interesting facts about the life and works of famous American 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 Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson.
5
Famous As: Astrophysicist
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

Carl Sagan.
5
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.

 3 Edwin Powell Hubble

Edwin Powell Hubble.
4
Famous As: Astronomer & Mathematician
Birthdate: November 20, 1889
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Marshfield, Missouri, USA
Died: September 28, 1953

While the Hubble Telescope, named after Edwin Powell Hubble, reminds one of his contribution to astronomy, he failed to get a Nobel Prize, as back in his time, the Nobel Committee didn’t recognize astrophysics as a valid science. He is best remembered for his work on galaxies and extragalactic astronomy.

 4 Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker.
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Famous As: Compiler of Almanacs
Birthdate: November 9, 1731
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Baltimore County
Died: October 9, 1806

Benjamin Banneker was born to a free African-American mother and a former slave father, and was largely self-educated. While he showed immense talent in both mathematics and astronomy, having predicted a solar eclipse with precision, he also wrote essays on civil rights and rallied against slavery.

 5 Clyde Tombaugh

Clyde Tombaugh.
4
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.

 6 J. Allen Hynek

J. Allen Hynek.
4
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 Annie Jump Cannon

Annie Jump Cannon.
3
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: December 11, 1863
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Dover
Died: April 13, 1941

After studying physics and astronomy at Wellesley College, Annie Jump Cannon traveled across Europe and focused on photography for a decade, before venturing to study astronomy again. At the Harvard Observatory, she made a considerable contribution to the classification of stellar bodies. She was almost deaf due to scarlet fever.

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 8 Vera Rubin

Vera Rubin
4
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: July 23, 1928
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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.

 9 Frank Drake

Frank Drake
3
Famous As: American astronomer
Birthdate: May 28, 1930
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois

American astronomer and astrophysicist Frank Drake is best-known for developing Drake equation and for his involvement in search for extraterrestrial intelligence, including founding of modern SETI. He performed Project Ozma, the first SETI experiment for searching signs of life in distant planetary systems. He also designed content of Arecibo message, an interstellar radio message, sent to globular star cluster M13.

 10 Henrietta Swan Leavitt

Henrietta Swan Leavitt.
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Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: July 4, 1868
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Lancaster, Massachusetts
Died: December 12, 1921

Born to a church minister, Henrietta Swan Leavitt grew up to work as a “human computer” at the Harvard Observatory. The American astronomer gained fame for discovering the period-luminosity relation of Cepheid variables. However, her brilliant scientific career was halted by her death due to stomach cancer at 53.

 11 Harlow Shapley

Harlow Shapley
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Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: November 2, 1885
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Nashville
Died: October 20, 1972

American scientist Harlow Shapley is best-remembered for ascertaining correct position of Sun within Milky Way Galaxy and for heading the Harvard College Observatory. He determined the size and shape of the Milky Way Galaxy and the Sun’s position within it using the Cepheid variable stars and wrote the Liquid Water Belt that provided scientific acceptance to Hubertus Strughold’s ecosphere theory.

 12 Eugene Merle Shoemaker

Eugene Merle Shoemaker
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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.

 13 David Rittenhouse

David Rittenhouse
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Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: April 8, 1732
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Paper Mill Run, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: June 26, 1796

American astronomer, inventor, mathematician, clockmaker and surveyor David Rittenhouse, who served as first director of the United States Mint and remained a  member of the American Philosophical Society, made several significant breakthroughs for the US. His achievements include discovering the atmosphere of Venus and observing its transit, becoming the first American to sight Uranus, and completing an advanced orrery.

 14 Matthew Fontaine Maury

Matthew Fontaine Maury
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Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: January 14, 1806
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Spotsylvania County, Virginia, United States
Died: February 1, 1873

American astronomer, naval officer, oceanographer and author Matthew Fontaine Maury, who first served the United States Navy and then the Confederacy States Navy, made significant contributions in oceanography. His book Physical Geography of the Sea is counted among the first comprehensive books on oceanography. Navies and merchant marines across the world adopted his uniform system of recording oceanographic data.

 15 Percival Lowell

Percival Lowell
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Famous As: Astronomer, Mathematician
Birthdate: March 13, 1855
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Boston
Died: November 12, 1916

Born into the famous Brahmin Lowell family of Massachusetts, Percival Lowell studied at Harvard, where he excelled in math. He managed a cotton mill and also spent time in Asia as a diplomat. He is best remembered for initiating the discovery of Pluto and for studying the canals on Mars.

 16 Robert Woodrow Wilson

Robert Woodrow Wilson.
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Famous As: Physicist, Astronomer
Birthdate: January 10, 1936
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Houston, Texas, United States

 17 Lawrence M. Krauss

Lawrence M. Krauss
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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.

 18 Michael E. Brown

Michael E. Brown
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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.

 19 Maria Mitchell

Maria Mitchell.
3
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: August 1, 1818
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Nantucket
Died: June 28, 1889
Maria Mitchell was motivated by her amateur astronomer father to venture into astronomy, and he taught her to operate several astronomical instruments. She later grew up to be America’s first professional female astronomer and is best remembered for discovering the comet 1847 VI, also known as Miss Mitchell's Comet.

 20 Michelle Thaller

Michelle Thaller
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Birthdate: 0000 AD
Birthplace: Waukesha

Apart from being the assistant director of science at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, astronomer Michelle Thaller also appears on shows such as The Universe on the History Channel. The Harvard alumna has also worked with Caltech. Apparently, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos had pushed her to study astronomy at 10.

 21 Valerie Thomas

Valerie Thomas
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Famous As: scientist and inventor
Birthdate: 1943 AD
Birthplace: Maryland, United States
After becoming one of the two female students in her university class to graduate in physics, Valerie Thomas joined NASA as a data analyst. While she oversaw the Landsat program, she is best remembered for inventing the illusion transmitter, which helped project a 3D optical illusion using concave mirrors.

 22 Amy Mainzer

Amy Mainzer
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Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: January 2, 1974
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Mansfield, Ohio, United States

Astronomer Amy Mainzer has been associated with NASA's NEOWISE mission and specializes in asteroid detection. The Stanford and Caltech alumna now teaches at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory of the University of Arizona and has also appeared on the History Channel series The Universe and in several documentaries.

 23 George Ellery Hale

George Ellery Hale
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Famous As: Astronomer, Journalist
Birthdate: June 29, 1868
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Chicago
Died: February 21, 1938

George Ellery Hale was an American solar astronomer. He discovered magnetic fields in sunspots, a discovery that gained him international fame. He played key roles in the planning or construction of several world-leading telescopes, including the 40-inch refracting telescope at Yerkes Observatory. He was a major figure in the foundation of the International Union for Cooperation in Solar Research. 

 

 24 George F. Smoot

George F. Smoot
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Famous As: Cosmologist
Birthdate: February 20, 1945
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Yukon, Jacksonville, 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?

 25 Eric W. Weisstein

Eric W. Weisstein
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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.

 26 Nathaniel Bowditch

Nathaniel Bowditch
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Famous As: Mathematician, Astronomer, Actuary, Physicist, Sailor
Birthdate: March 26, 1773
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Salem
Died: March 16, 1838

At 10, Nathaniel Bowditch was forced to quit studies due to poverty and started working, first at his father’s shop and then as a clerk in other shops. During his voyages in merchant ships, he discovered his love for math. He later redefined maritime navigation with his mathematical research.

 27 Adam Riess

Adam Riess
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Famous As: Professor
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.

 28 Geoffrey Marcy

Geoffrey Marcy
3
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

 29 Karl Gordon Henize

Karl Gordon Henize
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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.

 30 Gerard K. O'Neill

Gerard K. O'Neill
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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.

 31 Karl Guthe Jansky

Karl Guthe Jansky
3
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. 

 32 Jan Davis

Jan Davis
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Famous As: Astronaut
Birthdate: November 1, 1953
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Cocoa Beach, Florida, United States

Former American astronaut Jan Davis logged over 673 hours and 11 million miles in space and orbited the earth 445 times during her three Space Shuttle flights, STS-47, STS-60, STS-85. She worked for NASA for over two decades and thereafter served as a Vice President and Deputy General Manager for Jacobs Engineering Group. She presently works for Bastion Technologies, Inc.

 33 Vesto Slipher

Vesto Slipher
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Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: November 11, 1875
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Mulberry
Died: November 8, 1969

Vesto Slipher was an American astronomer who was the first to discover that distant galaxies are redshifted and also the first to relate these redshifts to velocity. He also performed the first measurements of radial velocities for galaxies. He completed his doctorate at Indiana University and spent his entire career at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. 

 34 Carolyn S. Shoemaker

Carolyn S. Shoemaker
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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. 

 35 Lyman Spitzer

Lyman Spitzer
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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. 

 36 Seth Shostak

Seth Shostak
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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.

 37 Robert H. Dicke

Robert H. Dicke
2
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.

 38 Robert Jastrow

Robert Jastrow
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Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: September 7, 1925
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Died: February 8, 2008

NASA scientist Robert Jastrow had also taught at Yale and Dartmouth College but is best remembered for establishing NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and serving as its director. Apart from his research on astronomy and planetary science, he had hosted countless CBS-TV programs on space science.

 39 Alexei Filippenko

Alexei Filippenko
2
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.

 40 John Dobson

John Dobson
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Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: September 14, 1915
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Beijing, China
Died: January 15, 2014

Known as the "Pied Piper of Astronomy" or the "Star Monk," amateur astronomer John Dobson created a low-cost Newtonian telescope, known as the Dobsonian telescope. Born in China, Dobson later moved to the U.S., where he spent 23 years at the Vedanta Monastery, following which he promoted astronomy and cosmology.

 41 Henry Norris Russell

Henry Norris Russell
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Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: October 25, 1877
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Town of Oyster Bay, New York
Died: February 18, 1957

Astronomer Henry Norris Russell is best remembered for his efforts in making physics the core of astrophysical science. The Princeton alumnus later taught at his alma and became the director of the Princeton University Observatory. He also contributed to the Russell–Saunders coupling and the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram.

 42 Asaph Hall

Asaph Hall
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Famous As: American astronomer
Birthdate: October 15, 1829
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Goshen
Died: November 22, 1907

Asaph Hall was born into a poor family of a clockmaker, and after losing his father, he began working as a carpenter’s apprentice. His talent in mathematics earned him a position at the Harvard College Observatory, and he ended up discovering the two moons of Mars, Deimos and Phobos.

 43 Allan Sandage

Allan Sandage
2
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: June 18, 1926
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Iowa City, Iowa, United States
Died: November 13, 2010

Considered to be one of the most influential astronomers of the 20th century, Allan Rex Sandage is credited with determining the first reasonably accurate value of Hubble’s constant and the age of the universe, a work he began while serving as a graduate student assistant to cosmologist Edwin Hubble. Later, he also made significant contributions to quasi-stellar radio sources.

 44 Guy Consolmagno

Guy Consolmagno
3
Famous As: Astronomer, School teacher, Writer, Planetary scientist
Birthdate: September 19, 1952
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Detroit

 45 Edward Emerson Barnard

Edward Emerson Barnard
2
Famous As: American astronomer
Birthdate: December 16, 1857
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Nashville
Died: February 6, 1923

Having lost his father a few months before his birth, Edward Emerson Barnard struggled with poverty and missed out on formal education, but realized his passion for photography quite early in life. Remembered as a pioneer of celestial photography, he discovered countless comets and celestial bodies, including the Barnard’s star.

 46 Ralph Asher Alpher

Ralph Asher Alpher
2
Famous As: Cosmologist
Birthdate: February 3, 1921
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Washington, D.C., United States
Died: August 12, 2007

Born to Belarusian immigrants, Ralph Asher Alpher worked as a stenographer before being hired to develop the technology for detonators, torpedoes, and submarines for the U.S. Navy. He is remembered for his work on the Big Bang model. He spent his later years working at General Electric’s R&D department.

 47 Halton Christian Arp

Halton Christian Arp
2
Famous As: Astronomer
Birthdate: March 21, 1927
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Died: December 28, 2013

Harvard and Caltech alumnus Halton Christian Arp later worked at Indiana University, before joining the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics. The astronomer is best known for his Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies, which listed countless galaxies, and his research on the distance of quasars. He believed the Big Bang Theory was incorrect

 48 Edward Charles Pickering

Edward Charles Pickering
2
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.

 49 Samuel Pierpont Langley

Samuel Pierpont Langley
2
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.

 50 Grote Reber

Grote Reber
2
Famous As: Amateur Astronomer
Birthdate: December 22, 1911
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Wheaton, Illinois, United States
Died: December 20, 2002

Grote Reber is remembered as a pioneer of American radio astronomy. The radio engineer made the world’s first radio telescope, which helped detect celestial signals. He won several awards for his research, including the Elliott Cresson Medal. The asteroid 6886 Grote was named after him.