Modern Astronomers







Edwin Hubble   November 20, 1889   September 28, 1953

Edwin Hubble was born to Virginia Lee Hubble and John Powell Hubble, an insurance executive, in Marshfield, Missouri, and moved to Wheaton, Illinois, in 1900.

In his younger days, he was noted more for his athletic prowess than his intellectual abilities, although he did earn good grades in every subject except for spelling.

His studies at the University of Chicago were concentrated on law, which led to a bachelor of science degree in 1910.

He spent the three years at The Queen's College, Oxford after earning his bachelor's as one of the university's first Rhodes Scholars, initially studying jurisprudence (Study of the Law) instead of science (as a promise to his dying father), and later added literature and Spanish, and earning his master's degree.

Edwin Hubble's arrival at Mount Wilson Observatory, California in 1919 coincided roughly with the completion of the 100-inch (2.5 m) Hooker Telescope, then the world's largest.

At that time, the prevailing view of the cosmos was that the universe consisted entirely of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Using the Hooker Telescope at Mt. Wilson, Hubble identified Cepheid variables (a kind of star that is used as a means to determine the distance from the galaxy also known as standard candle) in several spiral nebulae, including the Andromeda Nebula and Triangulum.

His observations, made in 1922–1923, proved conclusively that these nebulae were much too distant to be part of the Milky Way and were, in fact, entire galaxies outside our own.

Using The 100-inch Hooker telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory Hubble measured galaxy distances and a value for the rate of expansion of the universe. Light from many of these nebulae was strongly red-shifted, indicative of high recession velocities known as Hubble’s Law.

Hubble, then a thirty-five-year-old scientist, had his findings first published in The New York Times on November 23, 1924, then presented them to other astronomers at the January 1, 1925 meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Hubble's name is most widely recognized for the Hubble Space Telescope which was named in his honour, with a model prominently displayed in his hometown of Marshfield, Missouri.



Bernard Lovell  31 August 1913  6 August 2012

Sir Alfred Charles Bernard Lovell OBE FRS was an English physicist and radio astronomer. He was the first Director of Jodrell Bank Observatory, from 1945 to 1980.

Lovell was born at Oldland Common, Bristol in 1913, the son of Gilbert and Emily Laura Lovell. His childhood hobbies and interests included cricket and music, mainly the piano. He had a Methodist upbringing and attended Kingswood Grammar School.

Lovell studied physics at the University of Bristol obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in 1934, and a PhD in 1936

At this time he also received lessons from Raymond Jones, a teacher at Bath Technical School and later organist at Bath Abbey. The church organ was one of the main loves of his life, apart from science.

At the end of the Second World War, Lovell attempted to continue his studies of cosmic rays with an ex-military radar detector unit but suffered much background interference from the electric trams on Manchester's Oxford Road.

He moved his equipment to a more remote location, one which was free from such electrical interference, and where he established the Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Goostrey in Cheshire.


Early Equipment

With university funding, he constructed the then-largest steerable radio telescope in the world, which now bears his name: the Lovell Telescope.

Over 50 years later, it remains a productive radio telescope, now operated mostly as part of the MERLIN and European VLBI (very-long-baseline interferometry) Network interferometric arrays of radio telescopes.


Lovell Radio Telescope 76.2 m (250 ft) in Diameter



Fred Hoyle June 1915 20 August 2001

Sir Fred Hoyle FRS was a British astronomer who formulated the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis. He also held controversial stances on other scientific matters in particular his rejection of the "Big Bang" theory, a term coined by him on BBC radio, and his promotion of panspermia as the origin of life on Earth.

He also wrote science fiction novels, short stories and radio plays, and co-authored twelve books with his son, Geoffrey Hoyle.

He spent most of his working life at the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge and served as its director for six years.

Hoyle was a member of the joint policy committee (since 1967), during the planning stage for the 150-inch Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales.

He became chairman of the Anglo-Australian Telescope board in 1973, and presided at its inauguration in 1974 by Charles, Prince of Wales.

The telescope was commissioned in 1974 with a view to allowing high quality observations of the sky from the southern hemisphere.

It was the largest telescope in the Southern hemisphere from 1974-1976,

Hoyle, along with Thomas Gold and Hermann Bondi in 1948 began to argue for the universe as being in a "steady state" and formulated their Steady State theory.

The theory tried to explain how the universe could be eternal and essentially unchanging while still having the galaxies we observe moving away from each other.

The theory hinged on the creation of matter between galaxies over time, so that even though galaxies get further apart, new ones that develop between them fill the space they leave.


Patrick Moore 4 March 1923  9 December 2012

Sir Patrick Alfred Caldwell-Moore, CBE HonFRS FRAS was an English amateur astronomer who attained prominent status in that field as a writer, researcher, radio commentator and television presenter.

Moore was born in Pinner, Middlesex on 4 March 1923 to Capt. Charles Trachsel Caldwell-Moore MC  and Gertrude. His family moved to Bognor Regis, and subsequently to East Grinstead where he spent his childhood.

His youth was marked by heart problems, which left him in poor health and he was educated at home by private tutors. He developed an interest in astronomy at the age of six and joined the British Astronomical Association at the age of eleven.

Moore was also a self-taught xylophonist, glockenspiel player and pianist, as well as an accomplished composer. He was an amateur cricketer, golfer and chess player.

He was a teacher in Woking and at Holmewood House School in Langton Green, from 1945 to 1953. While teaching at Holmewood he set up a 12½ inch reflector telescope at his home, which he kept into his old age.

He became known as a specialist in Moon observation. He developed a particular interest in the far side of the Moon. And for creating the Caldwell catalogue.

Moore was President of the British Astronomical Association, co-founder and president of the Society for Popular Astronomy.

Author of over seventy books on astronomy, and presenter of the world's longest-running television series with the same original presenter, BBC's The Sky at Night. The programme was originally named Star Map before The Sky at Night was chosen in the Radio Times.

His first television appearance was in a debate about the existence of flying saucers following a spate of reported sightings in the 1950s; Moore argued against Lord Dowding and other UFO proponents.

Moore appears in the Guinness World Records book as the world's longest-serving TV presenter having presented the programme since 1957.



Carl Sagan November 9, 1934  December 20, 1996

Carl Edward Sagan  was an American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author,  and science communicator in astronomy and other natural sciences.

His best known scientific contribution is research on extra-terrestrial life, including experimental demonstration of the production of amino acids from basic chemicals by radiation.

Carl Sagan was born in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Samuel Sagan, was an immigrant garment worker from part of the then Russian Empire, in today's Ukraine.

His mother, Rachel Molly Gruber, was a housewife from New York. Carl was named in honour of Rachel's biological mother, Clara, in Sagan's words, "the mother she never knew."

Soon after entering elementary school he began to express a strong inquisitiveness about nature. Sagan recalled taking his first trips to the public library alone, at the age of five, when his mother got him a library card.

He wanted to learn what stars were, since none of his friends or their parents could give him a clear answer.

Sagan attended the University of Chicago, which was one of the few colleges he applied to that would consider admitting a sixteen-year-old, despite his excellent high school grades.

He spent most of his career as a professor of astronomy at Cornell University, where he directed the Laboratory for Planetary Studies. Sagan and his works received numerous awards and honours, including the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal,

Sagan assembled the first physical messages sent into space: the Pioneer plaque and the Voyager Golden Record, universal messages that could potentially be understood by any extra-terrestrial intelligence that might find them.

Sagan argued the now accepted hypothesis that the high surface temperatures of Venus can be attributed to and calculated using the greenhouse effect.

Sagan published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books.

He narrated and co-wrote the award-winning 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. The most widely watched series in the history of American public television. Cosmos has been seen by at least 500 million people across 60 different countries. 

He further contributed insights regarding the atmospheres of Venus and Jupiter as well as seasonal changes on Mars.

He also perceived global warming as a growing, man-made danger and likened it to the natural development of Venus into a hot, life-hostile planet through a kind of runaway greenhouse effect.


Stephen Hawking 8 January 1942 14 March 2018

Stephen William Hawking CH CBE FRS FRSA (was an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge.

His scientific works included a collaboration with Roger Penrose on gravitational singularity theorems in the framework of general relativity and the theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation, often called Hawking radiation.

Hawking was born in Oxford to Frank and Isobel Eileen Hawking his mother was born into a family of doctors in Glasgow.

His wealthy paternal great-grandfather, from Yorkshire, over-extended himself buying farm land and then went bankrupt in the great agricultural depression during the early 20th century.

In 1950, when Hawking's father became head of a division of the National Institute for Medical Research, the family moved to St Albans, Hertfordshire.

In St Albans, the family was considered highly intelligent and somewhat eccentric; meals were often spent with each person silently reading a book. They lived a frugal existence in a large, cluttered, and poorly maintained house and travelled in a converted London taxicab.

Hawking didn’t have the sort of sparkling early academic career you'd expect from a Grade-A genius. He claimed he didn't learn to properly read until he was 8 years old, and his grades never surpassed the average scores of his classmates at St. Albans School.

Of course, there was a reason those same classmates nicknamed him "Einstein"; Hawking built a computer with friends as a teenager, and demonstrated a tremendous capacity for grasping issues of space and time.

Hawking began his university education at University College Oxford, in October 1959 at the age of 17. For the first 18 months, he was bored and lonely  he found the academic work "ridiculously easy".

His physics tutor, Robert Berman, later said, "It was only necessary for him to know that something could be done, and he could do it without looking to see how other people did it."

Hawking achieved commercial success with several works of popular science in which he discusses his own theories and cosmology in general.

His book A Brief History of Time appeared on the British Sunday Times best-seller list for a record-breaking 237 weeks.

In 2002, Hawking was ranked number 25 in the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. 

In 1963, Hawking was diagnosed with an early-onset slow-progressing form of motor neurone disease that gradually paralysed him over the decades.

Even after the loss of his speech, he was still able to communicate through a speech-generating device, initially through use of a hand-held switch, and eventually by using a single cheek muscle.


Martin Rees 23 June 1942

Martin John Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow, OM, FRS, FREng, FMedSci, FRAS  is a British cosmologist and astrophysicist.

He has been Astronomer Royal since 1995 and was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge from 2004 to 2012 and President of the Royal Society between 2005 and 2010.

Rees was born in York,  his parents, both teachers, settled with Rees, an only child, in a rural part of Shropshire near the border with Wales.

There, his parents founded Bedstone College, a boarding school based on progressive educational concepts, that thrives to this day.

He was educated at Bedstone College, then from the age of 13 at Shrewsbury School. He studied for the mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating with first class honours.

He then undertook post-graduate research at Cambridge and completed a PhD supervised by Dennis Sciama in 1967.

Rees is the author of more than 500 research papers, and he has made contributions to the origin of cosmic microwave background radiation, as well as to galaxy clustering and formation.

His studies of the distribution of quasars led to final disproof of Steady State theory.

Since the 1990s, Rees has worked on gamma-ray bursts, and on how the "cosmic dark ages" ended when the first stars formed.

Rees is an author of books on astronomy and science intended for the lay public and gives many public lectures and broadcasts. In 2010 he was chosen to deliver the Reith Lectures for the BBC.

In a more speculative vein, he has, since the 1970s, been interested in anthropic reasoning, and the possibility that our visible universe is part of a vast "multiverse”.


Jocelyn Bell Burnell Born 15 July 1943

Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE FRS FRSE FRAS is an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland who, as a postgraduate student, co-discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967.

She was credited with "one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century". The discovery was recognised by the award of the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics, but despite the fact that she was the first to observe the pulsars, Bell was excluded from the recipients of the prize.

Jocelyn Bell was born in Lurgan, Northern Ireland, to M. Allison and G. Philip Bell.

Her father was an architect who had helped design the Armagh Planetarium, and during visits she was encouraged by the staff to pursue astronomy professionally.

She grew up in Lurgan and attended the Preparatory Department of Lurgan College from 1948 to 1956, where she, like the other girls, was not permitted to study science until her parents (and others) protested against the school's policy.

Previously, the girls' curriculum had included such subjects as cooking and cross-stitching rather than science.

She graduated from the University of Glasgow with a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Philosophy (physics), with honours, in 1965 and obtained a PhD degree from the University of Cambridge in 1969.

At Cambridge, she attended New Hall, Cambridge, and worked with Hewish and others to construct the Interplanetary Scintillation Array to study quasars, which had recently been discovered.

In July 1967, she detected a bit of "scruff" on her chart-recorder papers that tracked across the sky with the stars. She established that the signal was pulsing with great regularity, at a rate of about one pulse every one and a third seconds. Temporarily dubbed "Little Green Man 1" (LGM-1) the source (now known as PSR B1919+21) was identified after several years as a rapidly rotating neutron star. This was later documented by the BBC Horizon series.

In 2018, she was awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

She gave the whole of the £2.3m prize money to help women, ethnic minority, and refugee students become physics researchers.