Famous British Astronomers

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Astronomy in Britain goes back to the prehistoric times. British astronomers were engaged in observation and theory since times immemorial and through their ground-breaking and revolutionary research made some outstanding discoveries about the world that was beyond human comprehension for a long time. It were the English who discovered and developed new methods, theories, established facts and measured astronomic distances. William Herschel was a British astronomer of the 18th century who discovered Uranus and its two brightest moos, Titania and Oberon. His sister Caroline Herschel became the first woman astronomer to discover a comet. In her life, she discovered numerous comets. Helium gas owes its existence to Englishman Sir Joseph Lockyer who discovered its presence in the solar spectrum. British astronomer Antony Hewish was awarded Nobel Prize for his research group that discovered the first pulsar. Other popular British astronomers include Arthur S. Eddington, Sir Fred Hoyle, E Margaret Burbridge, Sir Roger Penrose and so on. Their invaluable work on astronomy has helped us better understand the universe, our solar system, sun, moon and of course our planet earth. Check this segment to find out in detail about the life, profile and works of famous British astronomers.
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 1 
Stephen Hawking
(Theoretical Physicist - First to Set Out a Theory of Cosmology)
Stephen Hawking
14
Birthdate: January 8, 1942
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Oxford, England
Died: March 14, 2018

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.

 2 
William Herschel
(Astronomer Known for His Discovery of 'Uranus' and 'Infrared Radiation')
William Herschel
6
Birthdate: November 15, 1738
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Hanover, Germany
Died: August 23, 1822

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. 

 3 
Robert Hooke
(Philosopher)
Robert Hooke
4
Birthdate: July 28, 1635
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Freshwater, Isle of Wight
Died: March 3, 1703

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.

 4 
Edmond Halley
(Mathematician known for Calculating the Orbit of a Comet & Was the Second Astronomer Royal in Britain)
Edmond Halley
6
Birthdate: November 8, 1656
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Haggerston, London, England
Died: January 14, 1742

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.

 5 
Arthur Eddington
(Astronomer)
Arthur Eddington
123
Birthdate: December 28, 1882
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Kendal
Died: November 22, 1944

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. 

 6 
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. 

 7 
Sir Christopher Wren
4
Birthdate: October 20, 1632
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: East Knoyle
Died: February 25, 1723

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.

 8 
James Glaisher
(Meteorologists)
James Glaisher
4
Birthdate: April 7, 1809
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Rotherhithe, London, England
Died: February 7, 1903

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.

 9 
Mary Somerville
(Mathematician, Linguist, Translator, Astronomer, Scientist)
Mary Somerville
5
Birthdate: December 26, 1780
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Jedburgh
Died: November 28, 1872

One of the two pioneering female honorary members of the Royal Astronomical Society, Mary Somerville was a 19th-century polymath and science writer. Though she specialized in math and astronomy, she was also well-versed in botany and geology. The Connection of the Physical Sciences remains her most notable work.

 10 
Fred Hoyle
(English Astronomer Who Formulated the Theory of 'Stellar Nucleosynthesis')
Fred Hoyle
4
Birthdate: June 24, 1915
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Bingley, England
Died: August 20, 2001

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.  

 11 
John Herschel
(British Polymath Known for His Invention of 'Blueprint')
John Herschel
4
Birthdate: March 7, 1792
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Slough, Buckinghamshire, England
Died: May 11, 1871

The son of renowned astronomer William Herschel, John Herschel was educated at Eton and Cambridge and grew up to be a polymath. Apart from contributing to the field of photography, he was known for cataloguing and naming stars and satellites. He briefly also served as the Master of the Royal Mint.

 12 
Jocelyn Bell Burnell
(British Astrophysicist Who Discovered the First Radio Pulsars)
Jocelyn Bell Burnell
4
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.  

 13 
David Brewster
(Scientist)
David Brewster
3
Birthdate: December 11, 1781
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Jedburgh, Scotland
Died: February 10, 1868

David Brewster was a British scientist, inventor, and author. He conducted many experiments in physical optics, especially concerned with the study of the polarization of light. Fellow scientist William Whewell dubbed him the "father of modern experimental optics." He was also a pioneer in photography and invented an improved stereoscope. He wrote numerous works of popular science as well. 

 14 
Charles Mason
(astronomer)
Charles Mason
3
Birthdate: 1728
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Oakridge
Died: October 25, 1786
Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland
4
Birthdate: April 27, 1564
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Tynemouth Castle, Northumberland, England
 16 
Antony Hewish
(Radio Astronomer)
Antony Hewish
3
Birthdate: May 11, 1924
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Fowey, Cornwall, England
Died: September 13, 2021

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.       

 17 
George Biddell Airy
(British Mathematician and Astronomer)
George Biddell Airy
3
Birthdate: July 27, 1801
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Alnwick, Northumberland, England
Died: January 2, 1892
English astronomer George Biddell Airy is best known for locating Greenwich as the prime meridian. He was ripped apart by critics for allegedly failing to help British astronomer John Couch Adams to discover Neptune. The Astronomer Royal was also the first to cure astigmatism by using cylindrical lenses.
 18 
George Darwin
(British Barrister, Astronomer and the Second Son of Naturalist Charles Darwin)
George Darwin
4
Birthdate: July 9, 1845
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Down House, Downe, Kent, England
Died: December 7, 1912

Born to legendary biologist Charles Darwin, George Darwin initially studied law and became a barrister. However, his interest in science made him deviate to astronomy. He believed the Moon was one part of the Earth. He later also taught at Cambridge and was made a Fellow of The Royal Society.

 19 
Jeremiah Dixon
(Astronomer)
Jeremiah Dixon
3
Birthdate: July 27, 1733
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Cockfield, County Durham, England
Died: January 22, 1779
 20 
John Flamsteed
(Astronomer and the first Astronomer Royal)
John Flamsteed
3
Birthdate: August 19, 1646
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Denby, Derbyshire, England
Died: December 31, 1719
 21 
Bernard Lovell
(British Physicist and Radio Astronomer Known for Developing the 76m Radio Telescope at Jodrell Bank)
Bernard Lovell
3
Birthdate: August 31, 1913
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Oldland Common, Bristol, England
Died: August 6, 2012

Bernard Lovell was a British physicist and radio astronomer who served as the first director of Jodrell Bank Observatory, holding this position from 1945 to 1980. He studied at the University of Bristol and embarked on an academic career. During World War II, he worked for the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE). He was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Medal in 1980. 

 22 
Venetia Phair
(Amateur astronomer)
Venetia Phair
3
Birthdate: July 11, 1918
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Oxford, England
Died: April 30, 2009
 23 
James Jeans
(British Physicist, Astronomer and Mathematician)
James Jeans
2
Birthdate: September 11, 1877
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Ormskirk, Lancashire, England
Died: September 16, 1946

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. 

 24 
John Couch Adams
(Mathematician, Astronomer, University teacher)
John Couch Adams
3
Birthdate: June 5, 1819
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Laneast
Died: January 21, 1892
 25 
Margaret Burbidge
(British-American Observational Astronomer and Astrophysicist Known for Her Contributions to the Theory of ‘Quasars')
Margaret Burbidge
3
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. 

 26 
Ralph H. Fowler
(Physicist, Astronomer)
Ralph H. Fowler
2
Birthdate: January 17, 1889
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Roydon, Essex, England, United Kingdom
Died: July 28, 1944
 27 
Martin Ryle
(English Radio Astronomer and Winner of the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics)
Martin Ryle
2
Birthdate: September 27, 1918
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Brighton, England
Died: October 14, 1984

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. 

 28 
James Bradley
(Astronomer)
James Bradley
2
Birthdate: 1693
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Sherborne, Gloucestershire, England
Died: July 13, 1762
 29 
James Nasmyth
(Astronomer, Engineer)
James Nasmyth
2
Birthdate: August 19, 1808
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Edinburgh
Died: May 7, 1890
 30 
Norman Lockyer
(British Scientist and Astronomer Known for Discovering the Gas Helium and Was the Founder of the Journal 'Nature')
Norman Lockyer
2
Birthdate: May 17, 1836
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Rugby, Warwickshire, England
Died: August 16, 1920

British astronomer Norman Lockyer is known for his discovery of the gas helium, along with French astronomer Pierre Janssen, though both worked independently. A talented author, too, he established the periodical Nature and remained associated with it till death. He was knighted for his achievements.

 31 
Jeremiah Horrocks
(Astronomer Who Predicted the Transit of Venus of 1639)
Jeremiah Horrocks
2
Birthdate: 1618 AD
Birthplace: Toxteth Park, Liverpool, Lancashire, England
Died: January 3, 1641
 32 
Harold Jeffreys
(Mathematical statistician)
Harold Jeffreys
2
Birthdate: April 22, 1891
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Fatfield, Washington, England
Died: March 18, 1989
 33 
Hermann Bondi
(British Mathematician Known for Developing the Steady State Model of the Universe With ‘Fred Hoyle’ and ‘Thomas Gold')
Hermann Bondi
2
Birthdate: November 1, 1919
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Vienna, Austria
Died: September 10, 2005
Austrian-British mathematician and cosmologist Hermann Bondi is best remembered for his steady-state model, co-developed with Fred Hoyle and Thomas Gold. Born to a physician, Bondi showed an early interest in math and was encouraged to follow it by mathematician Abraham Fraenkel, a relative. Bondi also taught at his alma, Cambridge.
Richard Christopher Carrington
2
Birthdate: May 26, 1826
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Chelsea, London, United Kingdom
Died: November 27, 1875
 35 
Colin Pillinger
(Scientist)
Colin Pillinger
2
Birthdate: May 9, 1943
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Kingswood, Bristol, England
Died: May 7, 2014
 36 
Thomas Digges
(Mathematician)
Thomas Digges
3
Birthdate: 1546 AD
Birthplace: Wootton, Kent, England
Died: August 24, 1595
 37 
Edmund Gunter
(Mathematician)
Edmund Gunter
3
Birthdate: 1581 AD
Birthplace: Hertfordshire, England
Died: December 10, 1626
 38 
William Lassell
(Merchant ,Astronomer)
William Lassell
2
Birthdate: June 18, 1799
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Bolton
Died: October 5, 1880
 39 
David C. Jewitt
(Astronomer)
David C. Jewitt
2
Birthdate: 1958 AD
 40 
Frank Watson Dyson
(Astronomer)
Frank Watson Dyson
2
Birthdate: January 8, 1868
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Measham, Leicestershire, England
Died: May 25, 1939
 41 
William Huggins
(Astronomer)
William Huggins
2
Birthdate: February 7, 1824
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Cornhill, Middlesex, England
Died: May 12, 1910
 42 
William de Wiveleslie Abney
(British Astronomer, Chemist, and Photographer Known for His Development of a Photographic Emulsion)
William de Wiveleslie Abney
2
Birthdate: July 24, 1843
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Derby, England
Died: December 3, 1920

Sir William de Wiveleslie Abney was an English photographer, chemist, and astronomer. A pioneer of many technical facets of photography, Abney's work in the chemistry of photography led to developments in astronomy apart from producing useful photographic products. Sir William de Wiveleslie Abney also wrote several books on photography that went on to become standard texts at that time.

 43 
John Hadley
(Mathematician)
John Hadley
2
Birthdate: April 16, 1682
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Bloomsbury, London, England
Died: February 14, 1744
 44 
Francis Baily
(Astronomer)
Francis Baily
2
Birthdate: April 28, 1774
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Newbury, England
Died: August 30, 1844
 45 
Warren De la Rue
(British Astronomer, Chemist, and Inventor Famous for His Pioneering Work in Astronomical Photography)
Warren De la Rue
2
Birthdate: January 18, 1815
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Guernsey, Guernsey
Died: April 19, 1889

Warren De la Rue was an astronomer, inventor, and chemist remembered for his work in astronomical photography. In 1840, Warren created one of the first electric light bulbs in the world when he transferred an electric current through a vacuum tube with a platinum coil enclosed. Over the course of his career, he received many awards like the Lalande Prize.

 46 
Byrhtferth
(Priest)
Byrhtferth
2
Birthdate: 0970 AD
Birthplace: Unknown
Died: 1020 AD
 47 
Edward Bernard
(astronomer)
Edward Bernard
1
Birthdate: 1638 AD
Birthplace: Paulerspury, Northamptonshire
Died: January 12, 1697
 48 
James Challis
(British Clergyman and Astronomer Famous in the History of Astronomy for His Failure to Discover the Planet 'Neptune')
James Challis
1
Birthdate: December 12, 1803
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Braintree, Essex, England
Died: December 3, 1882

Astronomer and physicist James Challis had been a professor of astronomy and the director of the Cambridge Observatory. Throughout his career, he published over 200 academic papers. Though he had observed Neptune a month before its official discovery, he had failed to identify as a separate planet.

 49 
Ernest William Brown
(Mathematician)
Ernest William Brown
1
Birthdate: November 29, 1866
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Hull, England
Died: July 22, 1938
 50 
Brian G. Marsden
(Astronomer)
Brian G. Marsden
1
Birthdate: August 5, 1937
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Cambridge, England
Died: November 18, 2010