Cosmic Champions sneak peek

The AstroQuest team are hard at work on some new features for the site, and one of them is some new rewards for our citizen scientists.

Up until now when you’ve finished each quest, you’ve unlocked an astronomical instrument from history as a trophy that recognises your hard work. When the new features are up, you will be able to unlock some new trophies. These will include people who have made their mark on astronomy in different ways — some are famous and have laws or theories named after them, some were pioneers or unsung heroes, and some are people you know and love. We think of them all as “Cosmic Champions”.

Here are some of the inspiring people from our list. You might have heard of them before, or may be hearing about them for the first time. 

Ruby Payne-Scott is believed to be the first female radio astronomer. She was an expert in the use of radar for detecting aircraft during World War II and a pioneer in the use of radio interferometry in astronomy. She used this technique to observe radio bursts originating from sunspots.
Aryabhata was the first of the major mathematician-astronomers from the classical age of Indian mathematics and astronomy. He wrote a highly influential astronomical text called the “Āryabhaṭīya”.
Wang Zhenyi was a Qing dynasty scientist who transgressed the customs of the time to become self-educated in astronomy and other sciences. In her short life she wrote many scientific papers and conducted original research — for instance simulating a lunar eclipse using a lamp, a round table and mirror.
Katherine Johnson was one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist. Her calculations of orbital mechanics were critical to the success of the first US crewed spaceflights. She was made famous by the movie “Hidden Figures”, and passed away aged 101 — leading to a mathematics internet meme that she waited until she was “in her prime”.
Ibn Yunus was an Islamic astronomer who wrote the text “al-Zij al-Kabir al-Hakimi”. He produced highly accurate calculations for the motions of the planets, sun and moon and may have used large astronomical instruments. He was one of many Islamic astronomers who questioned Ptolemy’s geocentric model of the solar system.
Mary Somerville was the joint first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society with Caroline Herschel. In an obituary she was described as “the queen of science”. She wrote important books expanding on the astronomical knowledge of her day, helping to teach and communicate astronomy as well as other fields of science.
Arthur B. C. Walker Jr was an African-American solar physicist and pioneer in ultraviolet and x-ray optics. His work contributed greatly to the first high-resolution images of the sun in XUV wavelengths. As a professor at Stanford he mentored many graduate students from groups that are underrepresented in science.
Hypatia is famous for being an astronomer, mathematician and philosopher in Alexandria, Egypt – which was then part of the Eastern Roman Empire. Renowned as a great teacher and wise counselor, she is known to have constructed astronomical and other scientific instruments, as well as correcting and improving Ptolemy’s “Almagest”. She was murdered for what may have been religious or political motivations.
Henrietta Swan Leavitt was a prominent member of the Harvard Computers, a group of women hired by Harvard to identify and classify every visible star and object on photographic glass plates. She discovered the relationship between luminosity and period of Cepheid variable stars. This enabled them to be used as a “standard candle” leading to the measurement of distances to other galaxies.
Omar Khayyam was a famous poet (author of the Rubiyat) who was also a mathematician and astronomer. Using observations made at the Isfahan Observatory, he reformed and recalibrated the Persian calendar into a true solar calendar that was in use for nine centuries. Its accuracy resulted in an error of only one day over 5,000 years.