This section contains the Biographies of the famous astronomy and space scientists, arranged in alphabetical order, who have contributed to the expansion of the physical, astrophysics, astronomical, chemical, and mathematical theories which are the basis of the studies and research carried out in our days.
The Biographies contain the most relevant information relating to his life, his main works, and his contributions to Science.
Other famous Astronomy & Space scientists include Werner Karl Heisenberg, Johannes Kepler, Joseph-Louis (de) Lagrange, Isaac Newton, Wolfgang Ernst Pauli, Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck, and Karl Schwarzschild. I will add them to the list later.
Cassini was born on June 8, 1625, in Liguria, in Perinaldo (in the province of Imperia, which was part of the Republic of Genoa at the time). He finished his initial studies at the Jesuit college in Genoa, where he met Gian Battista Baliani /a>, physicist, mathematician, and Galileo Galilei correspondent. In 1649, he gained popularity as an astrologer by forecasting the triumph of Innocent X’s army assembling in Bologna for a military expedition against the Duke of Parma, which he was not and never desired to be. However, the Marquis Malvasia summoned him to Bologna to look after his private observatory, and the next year he secured the university teaching of Astronomy. The significance of his study at Bologna placed him as one of the most well-known European astronomers of the period, and he was summoned to Paris in 1669 by the Sun King, Louis XIV, to work at the newly formed Observatoire Royal.
Cassini married in Paris and gave birth to a true astronomical dynasty that led the Observatoire until the French Revolution, with his great-grandson Cassini IV.
Despite his residence in Paris, Cassini maintained touch with the Bolognese community and actively participated in the founding of the Institute of Sciences Observatory.
The Senate of Bologna refused to accept his resignation and maintained the chair of Astronomy open for him until his death in Paris in 1712.
Cassini was commissioned by the Pope to construct fortifications and dedicate himself to the issue of regimentation and flood control on the Po.
The huge sundial in the basilica of San Petronio, constructed within the Bolognese church in 1655, is Cassini’s most famous work. It is the world’s longest meridian line, measuring 66.8m and accounting for precisely six hundred thousandths of the earth’s diameter.
Cassini wanted to use this equipment, dubbed the “heliometer,” to measure the length of the solar year by measuring the time elapsed between two consecutive crossings of the Sun at the vernal equinox, in order to validate the validity of the Gregorian calendar reform.
Above all, he wanted to settle the debate between those who, like Aristotle and Ptolemy, believed the Sun’s motion was circular and uniform around the immobile Earth and those who, like Copernicus and Galilei, believed the Earth was in motion around the Sun and that the Sun’s motion was thus only apparent.
In truth, the Sun seems to travel more slowly across the sky in summer than in winter, and it is at its closest to the Earth in summer. According to the ancients, the immense distance made its speed look slower. Kepler’s second law, on the other hand, claims that “the Earth has a faster speed when it is closest to the Sun and travels more slowly when it is farther away,” or, more accurately, that the line connecting the planet to the Sun describes equal regions in equal time intervals.
Cassini used the large “heliometer” to confirm that the diameter of the Sun (and thus its distance) did not decrease in the same way as its speed did during the year, implying that the decrease in speed was not apparent, but real: it was the world’s first observational confirmation of Kepler’s second law.
Cassini’s scientific activities included astronomy, hydraulics, military art, entomology, and even medicine, where he participated in some of the earliest blood transfusion trials. He correctly witnessed three comets in Bologna and was among the first to propose a substantially elliptical circular orbit for these celestial bodies, therefore classifying them as “recurring” stars, as Edmond Halley would later establish using Newton’s law of universal gravity.
He was able to acquire the Earth-Sun distance – the fundamental Astronomical Unit for measurements inside the Solar System – with a 7% accuracy by measuring the rotation of Mars and determining its distance from the Earth.
He also calculated Jupiter’s spin and discovered the “red spot,” the eye of a massive storm that has been raging in the planet’s atmosphere for decades. He found four Saturn satellites and the split between the huge planet’s rings that bear his name today, discovering that the rings were not a hard entity, but a swarm of microscopic particles.
The realization of the Ephemeris of Jupiter’s satellites was especially significant in the realm of Cassini’s planetary investigations.
The identification of the locations of Jupiter’s moons enabled him to construct tables containing the instants of the disappearance of the satellites behind Jupiter. The observation of a satellite occultation made it possible to read on the tables the precise time at which it occurred, providing an extremely accurate measurement of the time and, thus, the possibility of precisely determining the longitude of the place where observation was made, assisting in the resolution of one of the great problems of the time.
Furthermore, by determining the rotation periods of the satellites orbiting Jupiter, he discovered that they were obscured by the planet with a few milliseconds of delay: this was owing to the time it took for the light to reach us from the planet. It was because of Cassini’s discovery of this phenomenon, as well as his exact measurements and computations, that his partner, Ole Roemer, was able to measure the speed of light in 1675. The famous Moon map was created using detailed micrometric measurements, allowing him to investigate the fluctuations in our satellite’s orbit, which led him to develop what is considered the first modern theory of lunar movements. In particular, his research on tidal attractions between planets and their satellites – analogous to those between the Moon and the Earth – inspired three principles described by Cassini in 1693 and recently verified in Icarus, the most prominent international magazine of planetary sciences.
Few scientists have had the distinction of being recognized in the scientific literature after more than 300 years for the relevance of their study rather than only their historical significance like Gian Domenico Cassini did.
- The Cassini Division in the rings of Saturn is named after him.
- The mission of the Cassini space probe to Saturn and Titan is dedicated to Domenico Cassini.
- The astronomical community has also dedicated the Cassini Crater on the Moon, the Cassini Crater on Mars, and the Cassini Region on Saturn’s satellite Iapetus to him.
- The astronomical observatory of the astronomy department of the University of Bologna is located in Loiano.
- The first scientific high school established in Liguria (1923) bears his name: Giovanni Domenico Cassini state scientific high school.
- Youth and high school studies
Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Württemberg, Germany, 100 kilometers east of Stuttgart. His parents were Hermann Einstein, the proprietor of a small electrical equipment manufacturing firm, and Pauline Koch. They tied the knot in Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt. Albert’s family was Jewish (non-observant); he attended a Catholic primary school and was forced to take violin lessons by his mother.
When Einstein was five years old, his father handed him a pocket compass, and he recognized that something in “empty” space was working on his needle, propelling it north; he subsequently described this experience as one of the most enlightening of his life. Although he created models and mechanical gadgets for enjoyment, he did not enter the field of formal science until much later, either owing to dyslexia, plain shyness, or the tremendous rarity and particularity of his brain structure (his brain was examined after his death). He subsequently ascribed the theory of relativity’s growth to his slowness, claiming that by thinking about space and time later than other youngsters, he was able to apply more intellectual development to it. Another, more contemporary, idea about his mental development is that he had Asperger’s syndrome, which is comparable to autism.
Einstein started studying mathematics when he was twelve years old. He seems to have failed in this regard, although this is not the case. During his late youth and early adolescence, two of his uncles encouraged and provided him with literature on science and mathematics.
Since Albert was only two months old, the Einstein family had to relocate often due to ongoing economic issues; initially in Munich, then in 1894 in Pavia, Italy, and two years later in Bern, Switzerland.
His inability to pass the entrance test for the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (the Zurich Polytechnic) was a major setback; his family relocated him to Aarau, Switzerland, to finish his high school studies, where he obtained his diploma in 1896.
Einstein met and fell in love with Mileva Mari, a fellow Serbian student, in 1898. (friend of Nikola Tesla). He received a teaching certification from the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in 1900 and became a Swiss citizen in 1901. During this time, Einstein met with a small group of acquaintances, including Mileva, to discuss his scientific interests. Lieserl, his daughter with Mileva, was born in January 1902. Their parents were opposed to the marriage and regarded Lieserl to be an illegitimate kid. The tiny girl died of scarlet fever or, more likely, was given up for adoption, but no trace of her was ever found. Einstein earned his PhD while working at the Bern Patent Office in 1905.
- The special theory of relativity
In the same year, he wrote the paper Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper (On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies), which dealt with the interaction between charged bodies in motion and the electromagnetic field as viewed by various observers in different stages of motion.
The conflicts that characterized physics at the close of the nineteenth century questioning the presence or otherwise of an absolute reference system were settled as a result of this article. The resultant theory was known as the special relativity theory.
In the same year, 1905, he wrote a letter in which he explained the photoelectric effect using the quantum notion, which Max Planck had proposed a few years before. This breakthrough offered a significant boost to quantum mechanics, which was still in its early stages during those years. In the same year of wonder, he created a theory of Brownian motion.
He taught at Bern from 1908 and went to Prague in 1911; in 1914, he was named head of the University of Berlin’s Physics Institute, where he stayed until 1933. During those years, he conducted research in statistical mechanics and radiation theory while imagining the extension of relativistic ideas.
- General Theory of Relativity
In actuality, Einstein published a relativistic theory of gravity, known as General Relativity, in that year, which defined the features of 4-dimensional space-time. According to this theory, inertial systems can only make sense in the absence of gravitational forces. Although it is less well known and understood than the confined theory because of the problems of the mathematical model employed for description, general relativity is a far more revolutionary theory than the restricted one, since it questioned globally accepted schemes at its core.
He demonstrated the connection between Bohr’s law and Plank’s formula for blackbody radiation in 1917. In the same year, he proposed the idea of stimulated emission, which would eventually be used for the laser.
- Nobel in 1922
He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922 (the nomination was in 1921, but the award was not disclosed until 1922) for his 1905 work on the explanation of the photoelectric effect. During those years, Einstein began to devote himself to the search for unified field theories, a topic that captivated him until the end, as well as attempts at alternative explanations for quantum phenomena: in fact, his conception of the physical world was incompatible with probabilistic interpretations of quantum mechanics.
Because of the anti-Semitic persecutions that were already raging in Germany and Europe, he came to America. In 1933, he relocated to Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Studies, where he continued his studies while also examining certain cosmological issues and the probability of atomic transitions.
In 1955, he died in Princeton.
Einstein’s many works affected such a massive change that they can only be compared to Isaac Newton’s. His scientific honesty was reflected via the investigation of the photoelectric effect, even if he was never persuaded of the meaning of that theory (famous is his comment in a quarrel with Niels Bohr according to which God does not play dice), being unable to accept the probabilistic side. However, its application is not limited to relativity and related research; there is a portion of Einstein’s personality associated with a more practical understanding of science. In reality, in 1929, he collaborated with Leo Szilard to develop a prototype of the diffusion-absorption refrigerating machine, resulting in a unique invention for the refrigerator that uses just a combination of water and ammonia, has no moving components, and consumes very little power. The invention was never commercialized since it was never produced, and it was supplanted by the Servel-Electrolux patent, which is now used in all refrigerators.
- Philosopher too
The role of the scientist is supplemented by the no less essential figure of a man steeped in his period and of a philosopher. He was as uncompromising as a scientist as he was as a person; in 1913, he refused to sign a pro-war statement given to him by a group of German academics.
At the urging of Leo Szilard, he wrote to President Roosevelt in 1939 to advocate that the United States build the atomic bomb, concerned that the Nazi regime might be the first to equip itself with such a terrible weapon; however, he was not heard when, in 1945, he opposed the dropping of the same bomb on Japan.
- Plagiarism yes, plagiarism no
It is well known that various physicists had previously found what was ascribed to Einstein as a discovery. The famous formula E=mc2 was first written as is by Tolver Prestonin in 1875; in this case, we have no direct references to the formula, but it is deduced that the physicist knew it thanks to a quote from him: “The energy that can be obtained from a grain of wheat would lift an object weighing 100,000 tons by 1.9 miles “. It was then included in the early twentieth century by Henri Poincaré, and eventually in 1904 by Olinto De Pretto. The formula must have been “taken over” by Einstein from the latter, given that the Vicenza-born wrote it in his book “hypothesis of the ether in the life of the universe,” which the German will most likely have read thanks to his ability to speak Italian and contacts with his friend Michele Besso, who was also originally from the north-east, and with an uncle (Beniamino) who worked with Olinto’s brother, Augusto. In terms of relativity theory, Henri Poincaré had already stated several theses on which the young Albert would later be founded. First and foremost, he demonstrated that the speed of light was the limiting speed, that no experiment could determine if a motion was uniform or static, and that an object’s mass was proportional to its speed. Hendrik Antoon Lorenz’s Lorentz Transformation contributed significantly to the theory of relativity. It should be observed that Einstein improved his works very little and that allusions to other persons who had constructed the cultural foundations that he propagated with his synthesis talents and his enormous media effect are completely lacking. He was the forefather of the “mass science” of the third millennium, bringing enormous prominence to the figure of the physicist (perhaps also for this reason he was exploited by now megalomaniac science), he revolutionized, it is true, the way of doing science, and he revolutionized the way of thinking about science.
Fermi, born in Rome on September 29, 1901, had an extraordinary memory as well as remarkable intellect from an early age, allowing him to thrive in his studies. He was inseparable from his elder brother Giulio, who was one year older than him, from boyhood. Giulio died in 1915 after a medical procedure to treat a neck abscess. Enrico, who was terribly bereaved, poured himself into the study of physics to relieve his anguish and finished the gymnasium a year ahead of schedule. Adolfo Amidei, a family acquaintance, oversaw Fermi’s education in algebra, trigonometry, analytic geometry, calculus, and mechanics. Amidei also proposed that Fermi not attend the University of Rome, but rather the famous Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, a university for highly chosen outstanding students. The assessor at the Scuola Normale thought Fermi’s entrance test, at the age of 17, was more appropriate for a PhD exam. The examiner questioned Fermi and predicted that he would go on to become a brilliant scientist.
He enrolled at the University of Pisa in 1918 and graduated in 1922. Fermi spent six months at Max Born’s school in Göttingen in 1923, but he was not comfortable with the extremely theoretical and formal approach of the main school of quantum physics at the time. In 1924, he traveled to Leiden, Holland, to visit Paul Ehrenfest, and while there, he also met Einstein. Fermi held the theoretical physics chair (the first course in Rome, created for him by Professor Orso Maria Corbino, director of the Physics Institute). Corbino worked tirelessly to assist Fermi in forming his working group, which quickly included the likes of Edoardo Amaldi, Bruno Pontecorvo, Franco Rasetti, and Emilio Segre. Ettore Majoranahe was also a member of the group known as the “Boys of via Panisperna” (from the name of the street where the laboratories were located; now it is part of the Viminale complex, and of the Ministry of the Interior).
The trio continued its renowned experiments until 1933 when Rasetti left Italy for Canada and later the United States, Pontecorvo moved to France, and Segrè chose to teach in Palermo.
Fermi stayed in Rome until 1938 when he was given the Nobel Prize; Fascism had recently enacted racial laws, so Fermi (whose wife Laura Capone was Jewish) promptly moved to New York and started teaching at Columbia University.
After arriving at Columbia, he validated Hahn and Strassman’s early nuclear fission tests with the aid of Dunning and Booth and started building the first nuclear pile.
Fermi recalled the beginning of the project in a speech he gave in 1954 when he retired as President of the American Physical Society: “I vividly remember the first month, January 1939, I started work at Pupin Labs and everything started happening very fast. Around that time, Niels Bohr had been called to a series of lectures at Princeton and I remember Willis Lamb returning one afternoon from one of them really enthusiastic and said that Bohr had let slip very important news from his mouth: the discovery of nuclear fission and broadly his interpretation of the phenomenon. Then, still later the same month, there was a meeting in Washington where the possible application of the newly discovered fission phenomenon as a nuclear weapon was explored.”
Following Albert Einstein’s famous letter to President Roosevelt in 1939 (written by Leo Szilard) in which, in the face of the Nazi regime’s threat, the possibility of building an atomic bomb was highlighted, the Navy established a fund of 6,000 dollars for Columbia University, which was increased for the Manhattan Project and Fermi’s work.
He also added in his welcome to APS, “Well, we’re heading to Pearl Harbor. I left Columbia University at the time, and after a few months of traveling back and forth between Chicago and New York, I settled in Chicago to continue my work there, and work at Columbia has since then, with rare exceptions, concentrated on the isotope separation phase of the atomic energy project begun by Booth, Dunning, and Urey in the 1940s.
Fermi was a bright scientist with exceptional mental agility and common sense. As indicated by his idea of beta ray decay, he was a very bright thinker. He had the same ability in the laboratory, working rapidly and with excellent understanding. He excused his haste in the laboratory that led to his Nobel Prize by claiming that the identical discoveries he had made would be made shortly by someone else, and he had merely arrived sooner.
When he submitted his renowned paper on the disintegration of beta rays to Nature, the editor rejected it because it “included assumptions that were too distant from fact.” As a result, Fermi’s hypothesis was published in Italian and German before it was published in English.
He never forgot that he was a pioneer of his era, and used to remark to his favorite pupils: “Never be first, aim to be second”.
Fermi died of stomach cancer on November 29, 1954, in Chicago, Illinois. He was 53 years old at the time. Eugene Wigner had this to say about him: “‘I pray it doesn’t last long,’ Fermi stated to me 10 days before he died. He is completely at peace with his lot’.
During the commemoration held by the Accademia dei Lincei on March 12, 1955, professor Edoardo Amaldi stated: “His scientific work is so powerful and ingenious, and the practical consequences of some of his works are so significant and serious, that those who have not had the good fortune to know him are prone to forming an image of him that is far from the truth. Only his relatives and friends, those who knew him, know that, while it was difficult to separate the various aspects of Enrico Fermi as a scientist, researcher, teacher, and man because they were inextricably linked, his simplicity of tastes and way of life, his serene calm in the face of life’s problems, his lack of any pose or quirks of character were human qualities all the more remarkable in contrast to his exceptional qualities as a scientist.”
- The discovery of artificial radioactivity induced by neutrons
It is fairly uncommon for discoveries and innovations to be the product of “fortuitous accident,” concealing the author’s intuition, creativity, and inspiration.
Among the innumerable moments that pepper the history of science, one of the least known, but possibly most remarkable, was Enrico Fermi during his study on artificial radioactivity caused by neutrons at the Via Panisperna Institute in Rome in 1934.
The experiment included hitting a target constructed of a silver sample with neutrons while sandwiching a lead wedge between the source and the target to differentiate “absorbed” neutrons from “diffused” neutrons.
On the morning of October 20, everything was in place for the experiment to begin. Fermi was alone in the laboratory while his colleagues and students were busy with lectures and exams. Impatient and restless, he resolved to begin the scheduled operations right away, but an instant before, he got an idea and, for no apparent reason, he substituted the lead wedge with a piece of paraffin.
The findings, notably the induction of artificial radioactivity, were astonishing, far beyond even the most optimistic predictions, entirely unexpected, and, for the time being, unfathomable. The success of the experiment was ultimately shown to be attributable to the paraffin, a material rich in hydrogen, i.e. protons, which “slowed down” the incoming neutrons, magnifying their efficiency in detecting artificial radioactivity. For validation, the experiment was repeated, but this time the paraffin was replaced with water, which is likewise high in protons, yielding the same stunning results.
The occurrence is notable because, according to the ideas at the time, the artificial radioactivity should have been created by interposing lead, not material like paraffin. Why, therefore, would Fermi employ this without a minimum theoretical hypothesis? What was the source of his seemingly strange intuition?
Even the renowned scientist was unable to discover a solution, and he was undoubtedly the most astonished by the transformation.
Thus, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, a well-known theoretical physicist of Indian descent, recounts a discussion he had with Fermi on the subject:
I said to myself: << No! I don’t want this piece of lead, what I want is a piece of paraffin!>>. He went just like that, without any premonition and no previous conscious reasoning. I immediately took a piece of paraffin that I found at hand at the time and placed it where the piece of lead should have been placed.”
This event is notable because it reveals that our judgments are occasionally made despite all facts and logic, based on intuition, a premonition, or spontaneous inspiration.
This does not always result in a Nobel Prize-worthy scientific discovery; more often, these occurrences occur in the little things of our daily lives, and when they do, our minds light up and the truth suddenly appears in front of us in all its clarity, simplicity, and obviousness, leaving us astonished and amazed.
• Scientific news was taken from: “FERMI – a physicist from Via Panisperna to America” by Michelangelo De Maria – The Sciences (Italian edition of Scientific American) year II, n.8, April 1999 – Monographs: the greats of science.
During his life, Galileo took up Hellenistic science and technology and originally proposed some inventions, useful not only in the study of the stars but also of moving bodies:
- the inclined plane to measure the acceleration of gravity ;
- the pendulum to study the motion of bodies without friction ;
- the high-resolution telescope ;
- the hydrostatic balance which allows the measurement of the density of bodies;
- the microscope ;
- the instrument for measuring the weight of the air; • the thermoscope to measure the temperature and the atmospheric pressure ;
- a machine powered by animal energy to transport water to high levels;
- the proportional compass for making calculations on squaring the circle and solving math and geometry problems;
- the clock celestial using Jupiter’s satellites.
And again he became interested in the problem of the speed of light, deducing that it could not be infinite: in fact, he tried to measure its module. Reflecting on the motions along inclined planes, he discovered the problem of the minimum time in the fall of material bodies. He induced one of his pupils, Bonaventura Cavalieri, to study indivisibles, realizing the consequences of the infinitesimal calculus in the study of motion.
In mathematics, he discovered the first property of infinity: a part is equal to a whole.
He had to write ( Works VI ) “… this huge book [of nature] which is continually open before our eyes (I mean the universe), cannot be understood unless one first learns to understand the language, and to know the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures, without which means it is impossible to humanly understand a word; without these, it is a vain wandering through an obscure labyrinth”.
Edwin Powell Hubble (November 20, 1889 – September 28, 1953) was an American astronomer best known for discovering (1929) with Milton Humason the empirical law Redshift – Distance, now known as Hubble’s law, whose interpretation in terms of recession velocity is consistent with the solution (Alexander Friedman and Georges Lemaître) of Einstein’s equations for a homogeneous isotropic and expanding space-time. Hubble was born in Marshfield, Missouri, and attended the University of Chicago, where he majored in mathematics and astronomy. He received his diploma in 1910. He then spent three years as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, studying law and earning a Master’s degree. He returned to astronomy at the University of Chicago Yerkes Observatory, where he got his PhD in 1917, and George Ellery Hale gave him a post on his staff. Hale was the creator and director of the Carnegie Institution’s Mount Wilson Observatory, in Pasadena, California. Hubble stayed at Carnegie until his death in 1953 after a heart attack.
The 200-inch Hale Telescope on Mount Palomar was built shortly before his death. Hubble was the first to make use of it.
His entrance at Mount Wilson Observatory coincided with the building of the 100-inch Hooker Telescope, the most powerful in the world at the time. Hubble’s observations with the Hooker between 1923 and 1924 proved without question that most of the nebulae previously detected with less powerful telescopes were not part of our galaxy as previously thought, but were galaxies in their own right, apart from our Milky Way. On December 30, 1924, the news of this finding was made.
A short time later, Hubble and Milton Humason found the link between galaxies’ distance and velocity, now known as Hubble’s Law, which led to the notion of an expanding universe.
He is commemorated by the Hubble Space Telescope.
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