The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary American Astronomers of all time. This list of famous American Astronomers is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of American Astronomers.
With an HPI of 75.32, Edwin Hubble is the most famous American Astronomer. His biography has been translated into 95 different languages on wikipedia.
Edwin Powell Hubble (November 20, 1889 – September 28, 1953) was an American astronomer. He played a crucial role in establishing the fields of extragalactic astronomy and observational cosmology.Hubble proved that many objects previously thought to be clouds of dust and gas and classified as "nebulae" were actually galaxies beyond the Milky Way. He used the strong direct relationship between a classical Cepheid variable's luminosity and pulsation period (discovered in 1908 by Henrietta Swan Leavitt) for scaling galactic and extragalactic distances.Hubble provided evidence that the recessional velocity of a galaxy increases with its distance from the Earth, a property now known as "Hubble's law", although it had been proposed two years earlier by Georges Lemaître. The Hubble law implies that the universe is expanding. A decade before, the American astronomer Vesto Slipher had provided the first evidence that the light from many of these nebulae was strongly red-shifted, indicative of high recession velocities.Hubble's name is most widely recognized for the Hubble Space Telescope, which was named in his honor, with a model prominently displayed in his hometown of Marshfield, Missouri.
With an HPI of 71.94, Carl Sagan is the 2nd most famous American Astronomer. His biography has been translated into 97 different languages.
Carl Edward Sagan (; SAY-gən; November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) was an American astronomer, planetary scientist, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, and science communicator. His best known scientific contribution is research on extraterrestrial life, including experimental demonstration of the production of amino acids from basic chemicals by radiation. 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 extraterrestrial intelligence that might find them. Sagan argued the hypothesis, accepted since, that the high surface temperatures of Venus can be attributed to, and calculated using, the greenhouse effect.Initially an assistant professor at Harvard, Sagan later moved to Cornell where he would spend the majority of his career. Sagan published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books. He wrote many popular science books, such as The Dragons of Eden, Broca's Brain, Pale Blue Dot and 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 in 60 countries. The book Cosmos was published to accompany the series. He also wrote the 1985 science fiction novel Contact, the basis for a 1997 film of the same name. His papers, containing 595,000 items, are archived at The Library of Congress.Sagan advocated scientific skeptical inquiry and the scientific method, pioneered exobiology and promoted the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). 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 honors, including the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, the National Academy of Sciences Public Welfare Medal, the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for his book The Dragons of Eden, and, regarding Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, two Emmy Awards, the Peabody Award, and the Hugo Award. He married three times and had five children. After developing myelodysplasia, Sagan died of pneumonia at the age of 62, on December 20, 1996.
With an HPI of 69.43, Neil deGrasse Tyson is the 3rd most famous American Astronomer. His biography has been translated into 67 different languages.
Neil deGrasse Tyson (US: or UK: ; born October 5, 1958) is an American astrophysicist, author, and science communicator. Tyson studied at Harvard University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Columbia University. From 1991 to 1994, he was a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University. In 1994, he joined the Hayden Planetarium as a staff scientist and the Princeton faculty as a visiting research scientist and lecturer. In 1996, he became director of the planetarium and oversaw its $210 million reconstruction project, which was completed in 2000. Since 1996, he has been the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City. The center is part of the American Museum of Natural History, where Tyson founded the Department of Astrophysics in 1997 and has been a research associate in the department since 2003. From 1995 to 2005, Tyson wrote monthly essays in the "Universe" column for Natural History magazine, some of which were later published in his books Death by Black Hole (2007) and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (2017). During the same period, he wrote a monthly column in StarDate magazine, answering questions about the universe under the pen name "Merlin". Material from the column appeared in his books Merlin's Tour of the Universe (1998) and Just Visiting This Planet (1998). Tyson served on a 2001 government commission on the future of the U.S. aerospace industry and on the 2004 Moon, Mars and Beyond commission. He was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal in the same year. From 2006 to 2011, he hosted the television show NOVA ScienceNow on PBS. Since 2009, Tyson has hosted the weekly podcast StarTalk. A spin-off, also called StarTalk, began airing on National Geographic in 2015. In 2014, he hosted the television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, a successor to Carl Sagan's 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences awarded Tyson the Public Welfare Medal in 2015 for his "extraordinary role in exciting the public about the wonders of science".
With an HPI of 68.38, Robert Woodrow Wilson is the 4th most famous American Astronomer. His biography has been translated into 69 different languages.
Robert Woodrow Wilson (born January 10, 1936) is an American astronomer who, along with Arno Allan Penzias, discovered cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) in 1964. The pair won the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery.While doing tests and experiments with the Holmdel Horn Antenna at Bell Labs in Holmdel Township, New Jersey, Wilson and Penzias discovered a source of noise in the atmosphere that they could not explain. After removing all potential sources of noise, including pigeon droppings on the antenna, the noise was finally identified as CMB, which served as important corroboration of the Big Bang theory. In 1970, Wilson led a team that made the first detection of a rotational spectral line of carbon monoxide (CO) in an astronomical object, the Orion Nebula, and eight other galactic sources. Subsequently, CO observations became the standard method of tracing cool molecular interstellar gas, and detection of CO was the foundational event for the fields of millimeter and submillimeter astronomy.
With an HPI of 66.28, William Alfred Fowler is the 5th most famous American Astronomer. His biography has been translated into 64 different languages.
William Alfred Fowler (9 August 1911 – 14 March 1995) was an American nuclear physicist, later astrophysicist, who, with Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, won the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics. He is known for his theoretical and experimental research into nuclear reactions within stars and the energy elements produced in the process and was one of the authors of the influential B2FH paper.
With an HPI of 65.13, Charles Greeley Abbot is the 6th most famous American Astronomer. His biography has been translated into 42 different languages.
Charles Greeley Abbot (May 31, 1872 – December 17, 1973) was an American astrophysicist and the fifth secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, serving from 1928 until 1944. Abbot went from being director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, to becoming Assistant Secretary, and then Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution over the course of his career. As an astrophysicist, he researched the solar constant, research that led him to invent the solar cooker, solar boiler, solar still, and other patented solar energy inventions.
With an HPI of 64.48, Henrietta Swan Leavitt is the 7th most famous American Astronomer. Her biography has been translated into 51 different languages.
Henrietta Swan Leavitt (; July 4, 1868 – December 12, 1921) was an American astronomer. A graduate of Radcliffe College, she worked at the Harvard College Observatory as a "computer", tasked with examining photographic plates in order to measure and catalog the brightness of stars. This work led her to discover the relation between the luminosity and the period of Cepheid variables. Leavitt's discovery provided astronomers with the first "standard candle" with which to measure the distance to faraway galaxies.Before Leavitt discovered the period-luminosity relationship for Cepheid variables, the only techniques available to astronomers for measuring the distance to a star were based on parallax and triangulation. Such techniques can only be used for measuring distances up to hundreds of light years. Leavitt's work allowed astronomers to measure distances up to about 20 million light years. As a result of this, it is now known that our own galaxy, the Milky Way, has a diameter of about 100,000 light years. After Leavitt's death, Edwin Hubble used Leavitt's period-luminosity relation, together with the galactic spectral shifts first measured by Vesto Slipher at Lowell Observatory, to establish that the universe is expanding (see Hubble's law).
With an HPI of 64.25, Asaph Hall is the 8th most famous American Astronomer. His biography has been translated into 50 different languages.
Asaph Hall III (October 15, 1829 – November 22, 1907) was an American astronomer who is best known for having discovered the two moons of Mars, Deimos and Phobos, in 1877. He determined the orbits of satellites of other planets and of double stars, the rotation of Saturn, and the mass of Mars.
With an HPI of 63.75, Clyde Tombaugh is the 9th most famous American Astronomer. His biography has been translated into 60 different languages.
Clyde William Tombaugh (February 4, 1906 – January 17, 1997) was an American astronomer. He discovered Pluto in 1930, the first object to be discovered in what would later be identified as the Kuiper belt. At the time of discovery, Pluto was considered a planet, but was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006. Tombaugh also discovered many asteroids, and called for the serious scientific research of unidentified flying objects.
With an HPI of 62.19, Vera Rubin is the 10th most famous American Astronomer. Her biography has been translated into 50 different languages.
Vera Florence Cooper Rubin (; July 23, 1928 – December 25, 2016) was an American astronomer who pioneered work on galaxy rotation rates. She uncovered the discrepancy between the predicted and observed angular motion of galaxies by studying galactic rotation curves. Identifying the galaxy rotation problem, her work provided the first evidence for the existence of dark matter. These results were confirmed over subsequent decades. Beginning her academic career as the sole undergraduate in astronomy at Vassar College, Rubin went on to graduate studies at Cornell University and Georgetown University, where she observed deviations from Hubble flow in galaxies and provided evidence for the existence of galactic superclusters. She was honored throughout her career for her work, receiving the Bruce Medal, the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, and the National Medal of Science, among others.Rubin spent her life advocating for women in science and was known for her mentorship of aspiring female astronomers. She pioneered the field for many, and, in 2015, the National Science Foundation Vera C. Rubin Observatory (Large Synoptic Survey Telescope acronym: LSST) began construction. Her legacy was described by The New York Times as "ushering in a Copernican-scale change" in cosmological theory.
Pantheon has 125 people classified as astronomers born between 1731 and 2000. Of these 125, 35 (28.00%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living astronomers include Neil deGrasse Tyson, Robert Woodrow Wilson, and Russell Alan Hulse. The most famous deceased astronomers include Edwin Hubble, Carl Sagan, and William Alfred Fowler. As of April 2022, 5 new astronomers have been added to Pantheon including David Rittenhouse, Dorothea Klumpke, and Christian Pollas.
1958 - Present
1936 - Present
1950 - Present
1941 - Present
1930 - Present
1965 - Present
1932 - Present
1938 - Present
1969 - Present
1927 - Present
1944 - Present
1929 - Present
1889 - 1953
1934 - 1996
1911 - 1995
1872 - 1973
1868 - 1921
1829 - 1907
1906 - 1997
1928 - 2016
1855 - 1916
1820 - 1913
1857 - 1923
1928 - 1997
Which Astronomers were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Astronomers since 1700.