Great Heroes and Discoveries of Astronomy

There's more to astronomy than Hubble. Meet the bright minds and unsung heroes of astronomy and hear the human stories behind our greatest scientific endeavors.
Great Heroes and Discoveries of Astronomy is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 14.
  • y_2021, m_6, d_14, h_18
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.17
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_0, tr_14
  • loc_en_CA, sid_10050, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.1
  • CLOUD, getAggregateRating, 42.7ms
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Energy and enthusiasm, speaking simply and clearly I am almost heart-broken to be ending this course, as if one of my best friends was leaving town and our wonderful years together were at an end. If you are interested in a subject, you want someone like Emily Levesque to be your teacher. Emily brings a tremendous amount of enthusiasm to this subject of the heroes of and discoveries in astronomy over the last one hundred years. And she brings a LOT of energy. Her voice and her face sparkle and overflow with this energy and enthusiasm, and it is contagious. Finally, she brings humility to her teaching, she talks directly to you, and she speaks articulately, in plain English, without needing to use technical jargon or words that you have to look up in a dictionary. She doesn’t act like she’s somebody “special”. You are the special one. She treats you like a esteemed person and fills your mind and heart with her exuberance. If you like astronomy and don’t think you know it all, or if you don’t know much at all about astronomy and just want to get started in this field, give this course a try. Emily will be like a good friend to you and will inspire you to want to learn more when you have finished these twenty-four lectures.
Date published: 2021-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great content and infectious enthusiasm from the presenter.
Date published: 2021-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from outstanding course I started the course and zipped right thru it. The presentation was exceptional, clear and concise. The choice of topics really held my interest; all 24 lectures were excellent. would view further courses by this professor since this last course was so well done.
Date published: 2021-04-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Covers a lot of material Professor Levesque covers a lot of material in this course, and uses lots of photographs and graphics to illustrate each lecture. She has a good stage presence, and is easy to understand.
Date published: 2021-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Heroic Presentation I have been taking Great Courses for at least ten years, and have completed close to one hundred of them. This is the first one that brought tears (of joy) to my eyes. After hearing stories of so many brilliant astronomers whom we never heard of, often because they were women or minorities, I rejoiced in the fact that they are finally getting some credit for their incredible accomplishments. Professor Levesque is just wonderful. She's enthusiastic, 100% prepared, and has a knack of explaining complex scientific concepts so that everyone can understand. I've taken several other math and science Great Courses, and her explanations were clearer than any of the previous ones. The pictures and diagrams were also easy to follow, and the photos of faraway galaxies, black holes, pulsars, etc., were simply breathtaking. It's so exciting to see the evolution of telescopes, both in size and type. And the final lecture, in which she discusses the amazing telescopes planned for the near future, was just awe-inspiring. If I were a young person, this one course could make me want to be an astronomer. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2021-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bravo! One of the best courses I have taken I got interested in astronomy in 4th grade, 1953 and have followed advances in the subject over the years since. Over the past 5 years I have noticed with great interest the greatly increased acknowledgement of the contributions of women to all fields of science. This includes the women of Hidden Figures, to women code breakers in Great Britain and the US during WWII and even before. I greatly enjoyed learning of their contributions to Astronomy.
Date published: 2021-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great look at the people behind the discoveries I really enjoyed this course. In particular, I enjoyed very much learning the stories behind the discoveries. From the Harvard Computers to the tumultuous journey to get the Hubble Space Telescope up and running, this course provides something a lot of other surveys on astronomy are missing: context. I came into this already familiar with most of the landmark discoveries, but found the backgrounds of those discoveries to be just as fascinating. This course absolutely delivers on its goals: to highlight not only the discoveries but the heroes who made them possible.
Date published: 2021-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating and Completely Wonderful! This is one of the finest courses I have taken. The wide-ranging subject matter is completely fascinating - the history of astronomical discovery, brief but relevant bios of many of those involved, and the science itself. I guess it would help to have some prior interest in our universe (who doesn't?), but I imagine that anyone with a bit of intellectual curiosity and awe when gazing at the night sky will love this course. It is well worth reading through the lecture titles to get a sense of the extraordinary areas covered. And our professor couldn't be better. Dr. Levesque has complete command of all aspects of her subject, and is able to explain everything from reflecting telescopes to Einstein's general theory of relativity with remarkable clarity. She is well-organized, provides brief introductions and summaries in each lecture, and conveys her enthusiasm throughout. There is a bit of math thrown in here and there, which I appreciate, but if you are math phobic, don't let this deter you; the specifics of the math can be easily ignored with minimal to no loss of the key underlying points. And the many visuals are overwhelmingly wonderful. I am hard-pressed to come up with anything to complain about. Variations of the word "hero" are a bit overused, especially in lecture titles. And why is it that explanations of clocks in relative motion keeping different times never make clear how the slower or faster timekeeper is determined? That's about it. So - a truly great course. My highest recommendation for all. Enjoy!
Date published: 2021-03-22
  • y_2021, m_6, d_14, h_18
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.17
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_0, tr_14
  • loc_en_CA, sid_10050, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.1
  • CLOUD, getReviews, 15.11ms


Great Heroes and Discoveries of Astronomy takes you around the world and across time in search of the unsung heroes who evolved our understanding. Learn how Annie Jump Canon, Karl Lansky, Vera Rubin, and others sparked some of the great discoveries that have shaped astronomy over the past century through their groundbreaking new theories, serendipitous observations, and feats of engineering (on Earth and in space).


Emily Levesque
Emily Levesque

Astronomy is one of humanity’s earliest sciences.


University of Washington

Emily Levesque is an Associate Professor in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Washington. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate in Astronomy from the University of Hawai‘i. She received both the Annie Jump Cannon Award and the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize from the American Astronomical Society. She has been a Scialog Fellow, an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, a Kavli Fellow, and a Cottrell Scholar. She has also received competitive research funding from NASA and the National Science Foundation.

By This Professor

Great Heroes and Discoveries of Astronomy


What Astronomy’s Heroes Can Teach Us

01: What Astronomy’s Heroes Can Teach Us

Begin with an overview of the course, which revolves around the landmark accomplishments of Edwin Hubble, Albert Einstein, and Carl Sagan. Preview some of the fascinating astronomical discoveries tied to their legacies—and the many other great heroes of astronomy who helped make these scientific strides possible.

32 min
Designing and Building the Modern Telescope

02: Designing and Building the Modern Telescope

Meet George Ellery Hale, the father of the modern telescope. After learning the engineering science behind telescopes, follow the story of how Hale raised funds for a massive 200-inch telescope that went on to hold the world record for largest telescope for nearly 30 years—and sparked our continued plans to build more ELTs, or Extremely Large Telescopes.

26 min
Harvard Heroines Show Us the Stars

03: Harvard Heroines Show Us the Stars

With so many stars, could we possibly study them all? Enter three women: Williamina Fleming, who developed a method for classifying stars based on their spectra; Annie Jump Cannon, who rearranged the classification system’s order using multiple elements; and Cecilia Payne, who established the first temperature scale for stars based on their classifications and spectral appearances.

26 min
The Heroic Discovery of Other Galaxies

04: The Heroic Discovery of Other Galaxies

How did Henrietta Swan Leavitt, the prolific discoverer of variable stars, make sense of “Cepheid variables”? How did she calculate the relationship between their periods and their true luminosities? How did Edwin Hubble use Leavitt’s work (known as the Leavitt law) to measure the distance to the Great Andromeda Nebula in the 1920s?

25 min
Edwin Hubble and the Expanding Universe

05: Edwin Hubble and the Expanding Universe

In this lesson, unpack the mysteries of Hubble’s law. First, take a closer look at each part of this deceptively simple equation. Then, encounter the many heroes behind the law, including Vesto Slipher, an astronomer at Arizona’s Lowell Observatory, and Georges Lemaître, a Belgian priest and astronomer who may have influenced Hubble’s insights.

28 min
Heroes of the Hubble Space Telescope

06: Heroes of the Hubble Space Telescope

Here, focus on the story of Edwin Hubble’s most famous namesake: the Hubble Space Telescope. Among the heroes who helped make this vision a reality were the astrophysicist Lyman Spitzer; Nancy Roman, NASA’s first chief of astronomy; and a team of astronomers and telescope builders who helped repair a critical problem post-launch.

26 min
Pioneers of Radio Astronomy

07: Pioneers of Radio Astronomy

Today, radio astronomy is an immense field that has given rise to some of the most exciting scientific discoveries of the last century. Explore the work of Karl Jansky, who first detected radio waves in the early 1930s, and Grote Roeber, who built the first dedicated radio telescope and kicked off a surge of interest in radio astronomy.

26 min
Discovering the Cosmic Microwave Background

08: Discovering the Cosmic Microwave Background

What began as a faint hiss soon became one of the most crucial signals being studied in astronomy today. In this lesson on the cosmic microwave background (CMB), discover how detector designs, satellite observations, and other heroic efforts have shaped our understanding of the entire universe, from its age to the way it behaves today.

26 min
Vera Rubin and the Discovery of Dark Matter

09: Vera Rubin and the Discovery of Dark Matter

Today’s physicists and astronomers debate the idea of dark matter: what it’s made of, how it works, and what it means for the makeup of our universe. Go back to the beginning and learn about the invaluable contributions of Vera Rubin and Kent Ford, who found the first observational evidence of dark matter.

25 min
Finding the Beginning and End of the Cosmos

10: Finding the Beginning and End of the Cosmos

In this lesson, cover two of the most fundamental—and intertwined—questions astronomers around the world continually ask themselves: How did the universe begin? How will it end? Central to these questions is an innovative theory proposed by physicist Alan Guth that could explain the earliest moments of the universe.

28 min
How Astronomers Have Shaped Our World

11: How Astronomers Have Shaped Our World

Turn now to the physical and energetic extremes of the universe, which are some of the most brain-bending areas of astronomy. Begin by taking a look at how astronomers from all backgrounds—from theoretical physicist and humanitarian Albert Einstein to astronomer and gay rights advocate Frank Kameny—have taken on the challenge of shaping the world we live in, as well as the continued efforts in the profession to fight for continued and improved equity.

25 min
The Discoverers of Exploding Stars

12: The Discoverers of Exploding Stars

Supernovae are some of the most luminous events in our universe. Learn why Oscar Duhalde deserves a unique place among astronomical heroes, then examine how astronomers study and classify supernovae and eventually discovered SN 1987A: one of the most infamous and well-studied supernovae of all time.

25 min
Pioneers of X-ray and Ultraviolet Astronomy

13: Pioneers of X-ray and Ultraviolet Astronomy

X-ray and ultraviolet light are invaluable pieces in the puzzle of observational astronomy that have opened our eyes to everything from the solar corona to Earth’s magnetic field. Here, take a closer look at the importance of ultraviolet and X-ray astronomy, and the invaluable efforts of scientific heroes like George Carruthers and Riccardo Giacconi.

28 min
Finding Neutron Stars and Black Holes

14: Finding Neutron Stars and Black Holes

Discover the contributions of Jocelyn Bell and other astronomers in the search for neutron stars and black holes. How do astronomers observe these strange objects—and what, exactly, are they? What cutting-edge techniques are today’s teams of heroic astronomers using to study topics like stellar death and gravity?

26 min
Astronomers Put Einstein to the Test

15: Astronomers Put Einstein to the Test

There is perhaps no more famous theory in the field of physics than Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity. After unpacking the details of the infamous equation that revolutionized science, discover how Arthur Eddington catapulted Einstein and his newly proven theories about the relationship between space, time, and gravity worldwide.

30 min
The Heroic Detection of Gravitational Waves

16: The Heroic Detection of Gravitational Waves

Dig into what gravitational waves are, as well as the enormous observatories and groups of scientists that accomplished the mind-blowing task of detecting them. Focus on the work of teams led by Rai Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Barry Barish, whose Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected the tiny chirps of minuscule density waves in spacetime.

27 min
Heroic Surveys of the Entire Night Sky

17: Heroic Surveys of the Entire Night Sky

How do astronomers study and track changes in the night sky? Track the development of astronomical surveys, from the work of William and Caroline Herschel in the 1780s to build a systematic catalogue of the northern night sky to Jim Gunn’s work in the late 20th century to develop the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

24 min
Carl Sagan: The Great Space Communicator

18: Carl Sagan: The Great Space Communicator

Explore the vital importance of communicating astronomical discoveries to the rest of the world. First, witness the rise of planetariums that can simulate a night sky for the public. Then, turn to the storytelling of science-fiction authors like Jules Verne and Gene Roddenberry. Lastly, celebrate the impact of Carl Sagan and his Cosmos television series.

23 min
The Shoemakers Reveal Asteroids and Comets

19: The Shoemakers Reveal Asteroids and Comets

Take a census of our solar system’s smallest members, including asteroids and comets, and their relationship with geological history. We have Gene and Carolyn Shoemaker to thank for the dawn of planetary geology, which helped astronomers better understand the origins of the Moon and project the paths of near-Earth objects.

26 min
Discovering Pluto and the Kuiper Belt

20: Discovering Pluto and the Kuiper Belt

Explore Pluto’s brief decades of fame. Start with Percival Lowell and Clyde Tombaugh’s search for another planet lurking beyond Neptune, continue with Gerard Kuiper’s pioneering work on airborne observatories that revealed our first glimpse of Pluto’s atmosphere, and conclude with the planet’s demotion to a dwarf planet that was part of the ring of rock-and-ice objects known as the Kuiper belt.

26 min
Solar Astronomers Reveal the Universe

21: Solar Astronomers Reveal the Universe

Drawing on a great deal of heroic research, take a long (and safe) look at our own Sun. How have particle physics and asteroseismology helped us to understand the Sun’s inner workings and deepest layers? How did astronomers build solar telescopes that could tackle the unique challenges of studying the Sun and eye-catching events like sunspots and solar flares?

27 min
The Heroic Hunt for Extrasolar Planets

22: The Heroic Hunt for Extrasolar Planets

Astronomers today continue the search for exoplanets orbiting around other stars. In this lesson, meet astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail, who in the 1990s discovered not only the first extrasolar planets, but also the first multi-planet system and the first evidence of planets forming around pulsars.

26 min
The Seekers of Extraterrestrial Life

23: The Seekers of Extraterrestrial Life

Explore how we study the environments of distant planets and what—or who—may be living on them. Among the many bright minds you’ll meet are Vikki Meadows, whose team specializes in habitability and biosignatures, and Frank Drake, whose famous equation puts a number on the civilizations in our galaxy we could potentially detect.

26 min
Tomorrow’s Heroes of Astronomy

24: Tomorrow’s Heroes of Astronomy

Tomorrow’s heroes of astronomy are hard at work today pursuing new discoveries, testing new theories, and making groundbreaking technological advances. Topics in this final lesson include the Giant Magellan Telescope, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), and the James Webb Space Telescope.

28 min