American Women Astronomers

Throughout history, there have been many American women astronomers who have made significant contribution to the field. The list includes many familiar and great American female astronomers such as Annie Jump Cannon, Maria Mitchell, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, Amy Mainzer.

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 
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin
(Astronomer, Astrophysicist)

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin
6
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. 

 2 
Annie Jump Cannon
(Astronomer)

Annie Jump Cannon
5
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.

 3 
Vera Rubin
(Astronomer)

Vera Rubin
5
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.

 4 

Henrietta Swan Leavitt
4
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.

 5 
Williamina Fleming
(Astronomer)

Williamina Fleming
3
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.

 6 
Maria Mitchell
(Astronomer)

Maria Mitchell
3
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.

 7 
Amy Mainzer
(Astronomer)

Amy Mainzer
4
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.

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 8 
Valerie Thomas
(scientist and inventor)

Valerie Thomas
3
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.

Michelle Thaller
3
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.

 10 

Carolyn S. Shoemaker
3
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. 

 11 
Jan Davis
(Astronaut)

Jan Davis
3
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.

 12 
Margaret Burbidge
(Astrophysicist)

Margaret Burbidge
3
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. 

 13 
Helen Sawyer Hogg
(Astronomer)

Helen Sawyer Hogg
2
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.

 14 

Mary Watson Whitney
1
Birthdate: September 11, 1847
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Waltham, Massachusetts, United States
Died: January 21, 1921

American astronomer Mary Watson Whitney served as a professor and director of the Vassar Observatory for over two decades. Her teaching and research work were related to comets, asteroids, double stars and variable stars and also on measurements by photographic plates. The Vassar Observatory published 102 scientific papers under her direction. She became the first president of Maria Mitchell Association.

 15 

Sarah Frances Whiting
2
Birthdate: August 23, 1847
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Wyoming, New York, United States
Died: September 12, 1927

Born to a teacher father, Sarah Frances Whiting created history by becoming the first physics professor of Wellesley College, an institute that revolutionized higher education for women, and also established America's second undergraduate and first women’s physics lab. She remains a pioneer of women’s education in science.