Most Influential Astronomers of All Time
Our list of the most influential astronomers of all time would make most science fans a bit starry-eyed. Don't you agree?
Astronomers, like all scientists, are on an endless quest for the truth. Their discoveries have helped propel human history and give us a shot at becoming a better society. Without the work of astronomers, we wouldn't have landed on the moon.
Heck, without astronomy, we probably wouldn't have satellites or anything similar, either. A world without GPS or information about the ozone hole is pretty terrifying, right?
Though all astronomers help push us forward, there are some who are more influential than others. Here's our list of the most influential astronomers of all time, and why we have to thank them for their contributions.
Perhaps the earliest man to ever be called one of the most influential astronomers of all time is Claudius Ptolemy.
This 2nd-century astronomer was one of the first scientists to create an accurate geocentric model of the solar system. He called it the Almagest, and it was the basis of all astronomy for over 1,500 years after his death.
It was only until Copernicus proved that the Earth revolved around the sun that Ptolemy's model had to be updated. Impressive? Absolutely.
Nicolaus Copernicus is a household name, even today. His claim to fame, as everyone knows, is his proof for a heliocentric solar system. The book he published right before his death, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, was the book that sparked the Copernican Revolution in science.
That revolution added fuel to the fire of the just-beginning Scientific Revolution, which kicked off a slew of advancements in every single field of study imaginable. Yay, Copernicus?
Tycho Brahe wasn't just one of the most influential astronomers of all time; he also was a legendary mathematician. In astronomy, his crowning achievement was charting the movements of the planets so accurately that Johannes Kepler derived his laws on planetary motion from them.
He also was the first astronomer to prove that a supernova was beyond the Moon's distance and accurately predicted the arc the comet of 1577 would travel. That's some mathe-magic, right?
Johannes Kepler is known for being the first astronomer who was able to calculate laws on planetary motion. His work on elliptical orbits was later used to help calculate the effects of gravity on orbits. Kepler's laws became mainstays of science for centuries.
It's also worth pointing out that Kepler was one of the first to explain that light tends to get dimmer the further away it is—and actually suggested using that to gauge distance on a mathematical level.
NASA even commemorated Kepler by naming the Kepler Space Telescope after him. If that doesn't tell you why he's one of the most influential astronomers of all time, we don't know what will.
A lot of the planets in our solar system are visible to the naked eye, including Mars and Jupiter. This isn't surprising, considering how close they are to us.
However, it took William Herschel's careful scanning of the night sky to discover Uranus. (Along with Uranus, Herschel also was the first to spot moons on both Saturn and Uranus.) Part of his success? He was a telescope maker and loved to catalog the stars in the sky for fun.
Herschel's discoveries weren't stuck to planets, either. He was the first scientist to discover infrared radiation—an important part of scientific measures today.
Pierre-Simon Laplace isn't a household name, but his contributions definitely make him one of the most influential astronomers of all time. He was the first to prove that the solar system we have is "disc-shaped," rather than globular.
He also fixed the masses of the outer planets via his calculations, and released a number of accurate equations about planetary orbits and tides. Lastly, Laplace is credited with being one of the first to come up with the idea of a black hole.
Sir Arthur Eddington
Ever wonder what makes stars pulsate? If you're reading a list of the most influential astronomers in history, then you probably already know why. Sir Arthur Eddington is the guy who figured out that extreme masses (such as stars) can bend light.
The Eddington Valve Mechanism, which explains that "twinkling" you see, is his work. That alone makes this stargazer one of the most influential astronomers of all time.
You already may recognize this guy's name thanks to the Hubble Telescope, which is regularly used by NASA to get awesome pictures of space.
Prior to Hubble's work, we really believed that our galaxy was the only one out there. Sure, exoplanets may have existed in other solar systems in some theories, but not other galaxies. Hubble proved that we were only one of many galaxies, and that on a cosmic scale, everything is distributed relatively evenly in space.
Gerard Kuiper is one of the newest (but not the absolute newest) astronomer to be regularly called one of the most influential astronomers of all time. His claim to fame is discovering the Kuiper Belt between Jupiter and Mars.
Scientists currently believe that the belt of asteroids are potential pieces of a planet that failed to coalesce into a full planet. He also was the first to use spectroscopy to figure out what gasses were extant on other planets, which is why he's considered to be the first planetary scientist.
Most people would immediately recognize Carl Sagan as the guy who hosted Cosmos, but he was so much more than that. He was one of the most influential astronomers of last century, and was famous for publishing over 600 different papers on astronomy, astrophysics, and even astro-biology.
He was the one who predicted Venus would be hot, and the one who helped design space flight gear. He was a genius, and even Isaac Asimov admitted it. That says a lot, considering how prolific Asimov was.