Great Astronomers {Free eBook}

Sir Robert S. Ball was an astronomer, mathematician, and a popular lecturer at the Royal Institution and other venues in the late 1800s/early 1900s. In Great Astronomers he provides biographical sketches of 18 noted astronomers:

It has been my object in these pages to present the life of each astronomer in such detail as to enable the reader to realise in some degree the man’s character and surroundings; and I have endeavoured to indicate as clearly as circumstances would permit the main features of the discoveries by which he has become known.

There are many types of astronomers—from the stargazer who merely watches the heavens, to the abstract mathematician who merely works at his desk; it has, consequently, been necessary in the case of some lives to adopt a very different treatment from that which seemed suitable for others.

The sketches are approached in chronological order and include:

  • Ptolemy.
  • Copernicus.
  • Galileo.
  • Kepler.
  • Newton.

And other names you may not be familiar with, but whose contribution is usually appreciated by science majors.

There was a reason Ball was a popular lecturer in his time, and you will find this far from a dull book — particularly if you are accustomed to reading older works.

Perfect introduction to astronomy through the biographies of those who studied and framed the science. And free!

Free eBook


  • There are many ways this book can become a spine for a semester (by studying one astronomer per week) or a year (by spending two weeks on each astronomer).
  • Set up an astronomy notebook to hold the pages as they are completed.
  • Begin by reading (or having your student read) a chapter (or part of a chapter if you are going at a slower pace).
  • Ask for narrations (oral or written depending on the age and ability of your student).
  • The book is heavily illustrated and includes illustrations of each astronomer. Have your student include these in his notebook.
  • Have your student find answers:
    • Where was this astronomer born? (Include a map with the location marked.)
    • When was the astronomer born? During what periods of time was he active? Include this information on a timeline.
    • Summarize his contribution. (Use Drawing and Writing Paper to illustrate and describe.)
    • Pick out one or two topics associated with the astronomer to investigate further. For example, nebulae for Laplace.
    • Use The New Astronomy Book (see below) to expand your knowledge.
    • Where appropriate, experiment! (See below.)
  • Have your student write (or narrate) a character sketch to wrap up a study of each astronomer.
  • Have your student write a biography of his favorite.


Additional Resources

Great AstronomersGreat Astronomers by Ball
Reputable paperback version for those interested.

The Astronomy BookThe New Astronomy Book by Danny R. Faulkner
Covers the basics of astronomy, the moon, the night sky, stars, planets, galaxies, comets, and much more.
The Astronomy Book Study Guide

10 At Home Astronomy Experiments {Free}
Hands-on helps.

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