Born: March 14, 1879, Ulm, Germany
Died: April 18, 1955, Princeton, NJ
Juicy fact: He could not speak till the age of Four
His Contribution: Albert Einstein (1879-1955, German) was probably the greatest mind of the twentieth century. His Special Theory of Relativity, proposed in 1905, extended Newtonian Mechanics to very large speeds close to the speed of light. It describes the changes in measurements of physical phenomena when viewed by observers who are in motion relative to the phenomena. In 1915, Einstein extended this further in the General Theory of Relativity, which includes the effects of gravitation. According to this theory, mass and energy determine the geometry of spacetime, and curvatures of spacetime manifest themselves in gravitational forces.
Born: February 15, 1564, Pisa, Italy
Died: January 8, 1642, Arcetri, Italy
Juicy Fact: Galileo enrolled to do a medical degree at the University of Pisa but never finished, instead choosing to study mathematics.
His Contribution: Galileo Galilei (1564-1642, Italian) is the father of observational astronomy. In 1609, he heard about the Dutch invention of the telescope, and built one for himself. Even though his telescope was not very powerful compared to the amateur equipment available today, he was able to make a number of stunning discoveries which changed the face of astronomy. He saw the craters, mountains, and valleys of the Moon, noticed the huge number of stars making up the Milky Way, kept precise records of sunspot activity and the phases of Venus, and discovered four moons orbiting Jupiter. These moons are still called the Galilean Moons today, in honor of the earth-shattering scientific effects of the discovery. During a time when the Earth was still considered to be at the center of the universe, he publicized the fact that other astronomical bodies, such as Jupiter's moons, were clearly revolving around something other than the Earth. Galileo's support of the Copernican model of the universe frightened the Church, which put Galileo on trial in 1633. He was forced to renounce his Copernican views and was held under house arrest for the rest of his life.
Urbain Le Verrier
Born: 11 March 1811 Saint-Lô, France
Died: 23 September 1877 (aged 66) Paris, France
Juicy Fact: In 1837 Le Verrier married the daughter of his former mathematics professor
His Contribution: Le Verrier was already interested in astronomy; his first publication (1832) had dealt with shooting stars and had led to his first contact with the astronomer royal, George Airy. Henceforth, Le Verrier devoted himself exclusively to astronomy. In 1837 he began to study the most general problem of celestial mechanics, the stability of the solar system. The perturbations of major axes of the orbits had been treated, but Laplace had failed to obtain significant results for the eccentricities and inclinations. Extending Laplace’s calculations by carrying the approximations much further and by making a more complete analytical study, Le Verrier derived in 1839 and 1840 precise limits for the eccentricities and inclinations of the seven planets, given the masses accepted at the time. For Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus he demonstrated that stability is acquired without restriction.
Born: November 15, 1738, Hanover, Germany
Died: August 25, 1822, Slough, United Kingdom
Juicy Fact: He composed 24 symphonies and many concertos.
His Contribution: Sir William Herschel was a German-born British astronomer and composer, who is widely credited as the founder of sidereal astronomy for observing the heavenly bodies. He found the planet Uranus and its two moons, and formulated a theory of stellar evolution.
Born: February 4, 1906, Streator, IL
Died: January 17, 1997, Las Cruces, NM
Juicy Fact: A tiny portion of his ashes were placed aboard the New Horizons spacecraft. The container is inscribed to say: "Interned herein are remains of American Clyde W. Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto and the solar system's 'third zone'. Adelle and Muron's boy, Patricia's husband, Annette and Alden's father, astronomer, teacher, punster, and friend: Clyde W. Tombaugh (1906-1997)".
His Contribution: Clyde Tombaugh (1906-1997, American) was the discoverer of the final planet in our solar system, Pluto. He found it photographically in 1930, using the telescope at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona.
Born March 13, 1855 Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died November 12, 1916 (aged 61)Flagstaff, Arizona, U.S.
Juicy Fact: He thought he was the first person to discover the canals on Venus but because of a faulty adjustment to his telescope he was in fact looking at the blood vessels in his eyes.
His Contribution: Although Lowell was better known for his observations of Mars, he also drew maps of the planet Venus. He began observing Venus in detail in mid-1896 soon after the 61-centimetre (24-inch) Alvan Clark & Sons refracting telescope was installed at his new Flagstaff, Arizona observatory. Lowell observed the planet high in the daytime sky with the telescope's lens stopped down to 3 inches in diameter to reduce the effect of the turbulent daytime atmosphere. Lowell observed spoke-like surface features including a central dark spot, contrary to what was suspected then (and known now): that Venus has no surface features visible from Earth, being covered in an atmosphere that is opaque. It has been noted in a 2003 Journal for the History of Astronomy paper and in an article published in Sky and Telescope in July 2003 that Lowell's stopping down of the telescope created such a small exit pupil at the eyepiece, it may have become a giant ophthalmoscope giving Lowell an image of the shadows of blood vessels cast on the retina of his eye.
Born: January 4, 1643, Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, United Kingdom
Died: March 20, 1727, Kensington, London, United Kingdom
Juicy Facts: Newton was an avid list maker and one of his preserved lists included all of the sins he felt he had committed up until the age of 19 (his age at the time). One of them included, "Threatening my father and mother Smith to burne them and the house over them." You can't hardly blame the guy, though. When Smith proposed to Isaac's mother, Isaac wasn't part of the deal. The three-year-old Isaac was sent to live with his grandmother.
His Contribution: Isaac Newton (1643-1727, British) was a mathematician who developed extensive mathematics to describe the astronomical models of Copernicus and Kepler. His Theory of Universal Gravitation was the foundation of Kepler's laws of planetary motion, but it also went further: Newton showed that the laws governing astronomical bodies were the same laws governing motion on the surface of the Earth. Newton's scientific ideas are so complete that they still offer an accurate description of physics today, except for certain cases in which 20th century physics must be used.
Born: July 23, 1928, Philadelphia, PA
Died: December 25, 2016, Princeton, NJ
Juicy Fact: At age 10, she was already fascinated by the stars. From her home in Washington, D.C., she searched the skies and watched the constellations until late at night. Despite warnings from her mother not to overdo her star gazing, Rubin continued to pursue her passion in the night skies. At age 14 she built her first telescope with the help of her father. Her early fascination for astronomy followed her into adulthood; now she scans the stars with some of the world's largest and most powerful telescopes.
Her Contribution: Vera Cooper Rubin was an American astronomer who pioneered work on galaxy rotation rates. She uncovered the discrepancy between the predicted angular motion of galaxies and the observed motion, by studying galactic rotation curves.
Born: November 20, 1889, Marshfield, MO
Died: September 28, 1953, San Marino, CA
Juicy Fact: He was a gifted athlete who played baseball, football, basketball and ran track in both high school and college and led The University of Chicago to its first basketball conference title in 1907.
His Contribution: Edwin Hubble (1889-1953, American) made an incredible contribution to astronomy and cosmology when he discovered that faraway galaxies are moving away from us. Known as Hubble's Law, the theory states that galaxies recede from each other at a rate proportional to their distance from each other. This concept is a cornerstone of the Big Bang model of the universe.