An Italian astronomer, engineer, and physicist, Galileo Galilei is widely regarded as the father of observational astronomy, the father of the scientific method, the father of modern physics, and the father of modern science. He is credited with popularizing the telescope, which changed the course of history.
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.”
Nicolaus Copernicus was a mathematician and astronomer. He is credited with formulating Heliocentrism, which led to the Copernican Revolution. Although Aristarchus of Samos had formulated Heliocentrism 18 centuries earlier, Copernicus was responsible for popularizing it. Copernicus is also credited with formulating an economic principle, which was later called Gresham's law.
This 17th-century German mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer is remembered for his pathbreaking work on optics. He invented a developed version of the refracting telescope. He also laid down Kepler's laws of planetary motion and wrote Astronomia Nova, Harmonices Mundi, and Epitome Astronomiae Copernicanae.
Greek polymath Eratosthenes of Cyrene was a mathematician, poet, geographer, music theorist, and astronomer. He also served as the Library of Alexandria’s chief librarian. He was also the first to calculate the Earth’s circumference and the tilt of the Earth's axis. Nicknamed Pentathlos, he also invented many scientific terms.
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.
Renowned 12th-century mathematician and astronomer Bhāskara II is remembered for producing the first written work with full use of the decimal system. Siddhānta-Śiromani remains his most notable work. He also worked on quadratic equations and succeeded Brahmagupta as the head of the Ujjain cosmic observatory.
Though French scholar Pierre-Simon Laplace is primarily known for his work on the solar system, his research extended to areas such as mathematics and physics, apart from astronomy. Widely known as the Newton of France, he escaped being executed during the French Revolution, owing to his lack of political views.
From proposing the wave theory of light to discovering the actual shape of the rings of Saturn and inventing the pendulum clock, Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens had contributed a lot to science. Born to a diplomat, Huygens had the privilege of an elite education but remain sickly throughout his life.
William Herschel was a German-born British astronomer and composer. He pioneered the use of astronomical spectrophotometry and discovered infrared radiation. Impressed by his work, King George III appointed him the Court Astronomer. Herschel often collaborated with his sister, Caroline Lucretia Herschel, a fellow astronomer. In 1816, he was made a Knight of the Royal Guelphic Order.
Caroline Herschel was a German astronomer who is credited with the discovery of many comets, such as 35P/Herschel-Rigollet, which is named in her honor. In 1828, Herschel became the first woman to be honored with a Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society. She was also the first female scientist to receive a salary.
Joseph Louis Lagrange was an Italian mathematician and astronomer who made significant contributions to the fields of number theory, analysis, and both classical and celestial mechanics. He served as the director of mathematics at the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin for over 20 years. He later moved to France and became a member of the French Academy of Sciences.
Edmond Halley was an English astronomer and mathematician who was mainly concerned with practical applications of science. He abandoned college education to travel to St. Helena. He published catalogue of 341 southern stars with telescopically determined locations. Known for his wide range of interest, he helped Newton to publish his magnum opus, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. He used Newton's Law of Motion to compute periodicty of Halley’s Comet.
Arthur Eddington was an English physicist, astronomer, and mathematician. He wrote numerous articles that explained Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity to the English-speaking world. He began his career in academics and eventually shifted to astronomy, becoming the chief assistant to the Astronomer Royal at the Royal Greenwich Observatory. He was a recipient of the Henry Draper Medal.
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.
Persian polymath Nasir al-Din al-Tusi lost his jurist father in childhood and then went around as a scholar, learning subjects such as math and philosophy. He made invaluable contribution to astronomy and later served as a scientific advisor of the Mongols. One of his notable written works was Akhlaq-i Nasiri.
German mathematician and physicist Carl Friedrich Gauss is remembered for his work in math and science. Known as the Princeps mathematicorum, he laid down tenets such as the Gauss's Law. He had exhibited his talent since an early age and had completed writing Disquisitiones Arithmeticae by 21.
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.
Scientist Robert Hooke, also called England's Leonardo, initially gained recognition as an architect, conducting surveys following the Great Fire of London. He also taught geometry and was part of the Royal Society. He assisted Robert Boyle and eventually developed his own microscope, thus becoming the first to visualize micro-organisms.
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.
Aristarchus of Samos was an ancient Greek mathematician and astronomer best known for being the first person to present the heliocentric model at a time when the geocentric theories of Ptolemy and Aristotle were considered conventional. Aristarchus of Samos even estimated the sizes of the Moon and Sun and is regarded as one of the greatest thinkers of all time.
Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi was a Persian polymath credited with producing influential works in the fields of geography, astronomy, and mathematics. He is referred to as the founder or father of algebra as he was the first person to recognize algebra as an independent discipline. He also made significant contributions to trigonometry; he produced precise sine and cosine tables.
One of the Seven Wise Men of Greece, Thales was a 6th-century mathematician who believed that the Earth was a flat disk floating on a huge ocean. Legend has it that he had predicted a solar eclipse that stopped a major battle and had also laid down several geometrical theorems.
Ancient Indian astronomer and mathematician Brahmagupta is best remembered for laying down rules to calculate with zero and for penning the texts Brāhmasphuṭasiddhānta and Khaṇḍakhādyaka. His other achievements include his work on surds and positive and negative numbers. He also devised a formula for the area of a cyclic quadrilateral.
Ibn al-Haytham was an Arab mathematician, physicist, and astronomer of the Islamic Golden Age. He is best remembered for his contributions to the principles of optics for which he is called the father of modern optics. He was the first person to explain visual perception. A polymath, Ibn al-Haytham also wrote influential books on philosophy, medicine, and theology.
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.
Georges Lemaître was a mathematician, astronomer, and professor of physics. Lemaître was the first person to theorize that the expansion of the universe can be used to explain the recession of nearby galaxies. In 1927, Lemaître published the first estimation of the Hubble constant. He also came up with the Big Bang theory to explain the origin of the universe.
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.
French astronomer Charles Messier is remembered for his pioneering tabulation of nebulae, making it easier to differentiate between nebulae and comets. King Louis XV name him The Comet Ferret. He was drawn to astronomy when he witnessed a solar eclipse and the great six-tailed comet in childhood.
Born to a businessman and diplomat father in Bulgaria, Fritz Zwicky was initially sent to Switzerland to study commerce but ended up deviating to math and physics. He then moved to the U.S. to work with Caltech and gained fame for his research on what he called the supernova.
Architect Sir Christopher Wren had built over 50 churches in London, the most popular of them being the St. Paul’s Cathedral. He was a major force behind the formation of the Royal Society and was also knighted for his achievements. He was also a member of the English Parliament.
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.
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.
Abd Al-Rahman Al Sufi was a Persian astronomer best remembered for his popular work The Book of Fixed Stars which he published in 964. The book was highly influential and is still extant in the form of various translations and manuscripts, the oldest being preserved at the Bodleian Library in the University of Oxford.
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.
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.