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The Biographical Calendar of Astronomy

Presentation #345.01 in the session Public Outreach Resources and Programs — iPoster Session.

Published onJun 29, 2022
The Biographical Calendar of Astronomy

The Biographical Calendar of Astronomy is a daily reminder that astronomy is the product of human endeavor. Each day I feature the birthdate of an astronomer or cosmologist, along with half-a-dozen words describing his or her accomplishment(s). The primary sources are the Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers [BEA], Second Edition, Volumes I-IV (New York: Springer 2014), edited by myself, and the forthcoming BEA III.

Many noteworthy astronomers are absent. This is only because we do not know their exact birth date. Most of the great figures from antiquity are missing for this reason. The result is a sample spread from the Middles Ages (when we tend to have the birthdates for astrological reasons) to the present.

An individual may boast many accomplishments over a lifetime. I have chosen one — at most, two — which I feel is or are of most popular interest, even though some specialists might disagree. The names of a few people appear whose major contribution has been in the organization or communication of astronomy. Through chance, the box for 8 May was difficult to fill. As luck would have it, this is the birthdate of one of my favorite nature film documentarians.

I also want to point out that what we today call astronomy is interdisciplinary. Some of the names in the Calendar might also appear on a hypothetical Biographical Calendar of Physics. Or Chemistry. Or Geology. The outcome is a mix of frequently appearing as well as more obscure names.

My intent is to reject the Great Man Theory and point out that astronomy instead grows through the collected efforts of many. For this reason, there are names in the Calendar that may be unfamiliar. I would like to make them a little less unfamiliar. You will find Galileo Galilei, Albert Einstein, William Herschel, Edwin Hubble, Tycho Brahe, Isaac Newton, and Johannes Kepler. However, you also will find Paris Pişmiş, Erich von Drygalski, Su-shu Huong, Jean-Baptiste-Aimable Gaillot, Abū al-Wafā’ Muḥammad, Wilhelmina Iwanowska, and Nicolai Papalexi.

The descriptive vocabulary used in the Calendar is designed so as not to exceed that found in an elementary astronomy textbook. Hopefully, I include enough key words such that a reader, interested in a particular date’s topic, can investigate further by consulting, e. g., a reputable web site.

The twelve-file Biographical Calendar of Astronomy is in Microsoft Excel format so that it can be edited for use in any year. These files may be found at my web site: I make them publicly available to use for any educational/outreach purpose. I ask only that text not be altered.

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