astronomy

Henrietta Swan Leavitt and the Light of the Cepheids

Henrietta Swan Leavitt and the Light of the Cepheids

On July 4, 1868, American astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt was born. She is best known for her discovery of the relation between the luminosity and the period of Cepheid variable stars. Based on her luminosity-period relation for Cepheids, Edwin Hubble was able to determine that the universe is expanding. Henrietta Swan Leavitt was born in Lancaster, Massachusetts, as daughter among seven children of Congregational church minister George Roswell Leavitt and his wife…
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William Parsons and his Very Large Telescopes

William Parsons and his Very Large Telescopes

On June 17, 1800, Irish astronomer William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse, was born. As an astronomer, he had several telescopes built, among them his 72-inch telescope, built in 1845 and colloquially known of as the “Leviathan of Parsonstown“, which was the world’s largest telescope, in terms of aperture size, until the early 20th century. In 1848, he found and named the Crab Nebula (because he thought it resembled a crab), by which name…
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The Life and Work of Georg von Peuerbach

The Life and Work of Georg von Peuerbach

On May 30, 1423, Austrian astronomer, mathematician and instrument maker Georg von Peuerbach was born. He is best known for his streamlined presentation of Ptolemaic Astronomy in the Theoricae Novae Planetarum. Furthermore, he promoted the use of Arabic numerals (introduced 250 years earlier in place of Roman numerals), especially in a table of sines he calculated with unprecedented accuracy. There is not much known about Peuerbach’s early life. However, he probably entered the…
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Frank Drake, Project Ozma and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life

Frank Drake, Project Ozma and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life

On May 28, 1930, American astronomer and astrophysicist Frank Drake was born. He is most notable as one of the pioneers in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, including the founding of SETI, mounting the first observational attempts at detecting extraterrestrial communications in 1960 in Project Ozma, developing the Drake equation, and as the creator of the Arecibo Message, a digital encoding of an astronomical and biological description of the Earth and its…
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Williamina Stevens Fleming and her Achievements in Astronomy

Williamina Stevens Fleming and her Achievements in Astronomy

On May 15, 1857, Scottish astronomer Williamina Paton Fleming was born. She helped develop a common designation system for stars and catalogued thousands of stars and other astronomical phenomena. Fleming is especially noted for her discovery of the Horsehead Nebula in 1888. Williamina Paton Fleming was born in Dundee, Scotland in 1857. She attended a public school and became a pupil-teacher when she was 14. She entered Harvard College Observatory as a…
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Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin and the Composition of Stars

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin and the Composition of Stars

On May 10, 1900, British–American astronomer and astrophysicist Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin was born. She was the first to apply laws of atomic physics to the study of the temperature and density of stellar bodies, and the first to conclude that hydrogen and helium are the two most common elements in the universe. It was another 20 years before Payne’s original claim was confirmed, by Fred Hoyle. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin earned a scholarship to…
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Jan Hendrik Oort and the Secrets of the Oort Cloud

Jan Hendrik Oort and the Secrets of the Oort Cloud

On April 28, 1900, Dutch physicist and astronomer Jan Hendrik Oort was born. One of the greatest astronomers of the 20th century, Oort made significant contributions to the understanding of the Milky Way and who was a pioneer in the field of radio astronomy. Oort determined that the Milky Way rotates and overturned the idea that the sun is at its center; he discovered mysterious invisible ‘dark matter‘ in 1932, as well…
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Giovanni Riccioli – a man of Encyclopedic Knowledge

Giovanni Riccioli – a man of Encyclopedic Knowledge

On April 17, 1598, Italian astronomer and a Catholic priest in the Jesuit order Giovanni Battista Riccioli was born. He is known, among other things, for his experiments with pendulums and with falling bodies, for his discussion of 126 arguments concerning the motion of the Earth, and for introducing the current scheme of lunar nomenclature. He also was the first to observe a double star (two stars so close together that they…
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David Rittenhouse and the Transit of Venus

David Rittenhouse and the Transit of Venus

On April 8, 1732, American astronomer David Rittenhouse was born. He was an early observer of the atmosphere of Venus. For observations for the transit of Venus on 3 June 1769, he constructed a high precision pendulum clock, an astronomical quadrant, an equal altitude instrument, and an astronomical transit. Besides being an astronomer, he was also inventor, clockmaker, mathematician, surveyor, scientific instrument craftsman and public official as first director of the United States Mint.…
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Aristarchus of Samos – Putting the Sun at the Right Place

Aristarchus of Samos – Putting the Sun at the Right Place

About 310 BC, ancient Greek astronomer and mathematician Aristarchus of Samos was born. He presented the first known model that placed the Sun at the center of the known universe with the Earth revolving around it. As Anaxagoras before him, he also suspected that the stars were just other bodies like the Sun. His astronomical ideas were often rejected in favor of the geocentric theories of Aristotle and Ptolemy. Apparently, Aristarchus of…
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