Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society

Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society
A gold medal, featuring an image of a telescope. Engraved with 'Asaph Hall 1979' and 'quicquid nitet notandum'
The RAS gold medal awarded to Asaph Hall
Awarded forAchievement in astronomy or geophysics
CountryUnited Kingdom
First awarded1824
Last awarded2022
Currently held byGeorge Efstathiou, Richard B. Horne
Website Edit this on Wikidata

The Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society is the highest award given by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). The RAS Council have "complete freedom as to the grounds on which it is awarded" and it can be awarded for any reason. Past awards have been given for "outstanding personal researches in the fields of astronomy and geophysics" as well as general contributions to astronomy and geophysics "that may be made through leadership in research programmes, through education and through scientific administration". It has been awarded both for research that has taken a lifetime (it has most frequently been given to recognise an extraordinary lifetime achievement), and for specific pieces of research.


The RAS was founded in 1820 and the first Gold Medals were awarded in 1824. Silver medals were also awarded in 1824 and 1827, but that practice was quickly abandoned, instead the RAS established other awards.

In the early years, more than one medal was often awarded in a year, but by 1833 only one medal was being awarded per year. This caused a problem when Neptune was discovered in 1846, because many felt an award should jointly be made to John Couch Adams and Urbain Le Verrier. A controversy arose and no award was made in 1847. The controversy was resolved by giving 12 "testimonial" awards in 1848 to various people including Adams and Le Verrier, and in 1849 awards resumed, with a limit of one per year. Adams and Le Verrier did not get their gold medals until 1866 and 1868, respectively. Adams, who was then President of the RAS, presented Le Verrier with the medal.

In some years, particularly early on, the RAS sometimes decided that there were no suitable nominations and so did not award the gold medal. There are therefore 17 years without an award, the most recent being 1942 (on that occasion due to the disruption of the Second World War). One medal per year was the usual practise, although two medals were awarded in both 1867 and 1886. To ensure balance in research areas, in 1964 the award was expanded to two medals per year, one in astronomy (including astrophysics, cosmology etc.) and one in geophysics (including planetary science, tectonics etc.), which remains the current system. All recipients are listed below, along with the years when no award was made.

The first woman to receive the Gold Medal was Caroline Herschel in 1828. No other woman received the award until Vera Rubin in 1996. Margaret and Geoffrey Burbidge were jointly awarded the 2005 Gold Medal in astronomy, the first joint award since 1886.

The medal features an image of the 40-foot telescope constructed by Sir William Herschel, the first President of the RAS.


Year Astronomy Geophysics Notes References
1824 Charles Babbage
Johann Franz Encke
1825 No award
1826 John Herschel
James South
Wilhelm Struve
1827 Francis Baily
1828 Thomas Makdougall Brisbane
James Dunlop
Caroline Herschel
1829 Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel
William Pearson
Heinrich Christian Schumacher
1830 Johann Franz Encke
William Richardson
1831 Marie-Charles Damoiseau
Henry Kater
1832 No award
1833 George Biddell Airy
1834 No award
1835 Manuel J. Johnson
1836 John Herschel
1837 Otto A. Rosenberger
1838 No award
1839 John Wrottesley
1840 Jean Plana
1841 Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel
1842 Peter Andreas Hansen
1843 Francis Baily
1844 No award
1845 William Henry Smyth
1846 George Biddell Airy
1847 No award
1848 No award
1849 William Lassell
1850 Otto Wilhelm Struve
1851 Annibale de Gasparis
1852 Christian August Friedrich Peters
1853 John Russell Hind
1854 Charles Rümker
1855 William Rutter Dawes
1856 Robert Grant
1857 Heinrich Schwabe
1858 Robert Main
1859 Richard Christopher Carrington
1860 Peter Andreas Hansen
1861 Hermann Goldschmidt
1862 Warren de la Rue
1863 Friedrich Wilhelm Argelander
1864 No award
1865 George Phillips Bond
1866 John Couch Adams
1867 William Huggins
William Allen Miller
1868 Urbain Le Verrier
1869 Edward James Stone
1870 Charles-Eugène Delaunay
1871 No award
1872 Giovanni Schiaparelli
1873 No award
1874 Simon Newcomb
1875 Heinrich d'Arrest
1876 Urbain Le Verrier
1877 No award
1878 Ercole Dembowski
1879 Asaph Hall
1880 No award
1881 Axel Möller
1882 David Gill
1883 Benjamin A. Gould
1884 Andrew Ainslie Common
1885 William Huggins
1886 Edward Charles Pickering
Charles Pritchard
1887 George William Hill
1888 Arthur Auwers
1889 Maurice Loewy
1890 No award
1891 No award
1892 George Howard Darwin
1893 Hermann Carl Vogel
1894 S. W. Burnham
1895 Isaac Roberts
1896 Seth Carlo Chandler
1897 Edward Emerson Barnard
1898 William Frederick Denning
1899 Frank McClean
1900 Henri Poincaré
1901 Edward Charles Pickering
1902 Jacobus Kapteyn
1903 Hermann Struve
1904 George Ellery Hale
1905 Lewis Boss
1906 William Wallace Campbell
1907 Ernest William Brown
1908 David Gill
1909 Oskar Backlund
1910 Friedrich Küstner
1911 Philip Herbert Cowell
1912 Arthur Robert Hinks
1913 Henri-Alexandre Deslandres
1914 Max Wolf
1915 Alfred Fowler
1916 John L. E. Dreyer
1917 Walter Sydney Adams
1918 John Evershed
1919 Guillaume Bigourdan
1920 No award
1921 Henry Norris Russell
1922 James Hopwood Jeans
1923 Albert A. Michelson
1924 Arthur Eddington
1925 Frank Watson Dyson
1926 Albert Einstein
1927 Frank Schlesinger
1928 Ralph Allen Sampson
1929 Ejnar Hertzsprung
1930 John Stanley Plaskett
1931 Willem de Sitter
1932 Robert Grant Aitken
1933 Vesto Slipher
1934 Harlow Shapley
1935 E. Arthur Milne
1936 Hisashi Kimura
1937 Harold Jeffreys
1938 William Hammond Wright
1939 Bernard Lyot
1940 Edwin Hubble
1941 No award
1942 No award
1943 Harold Spencer Jones
1944 Otto Struve
1945 Bengt Edlén
1946 Jan Oort
1947 Marcel Minnaert
1948 Bertil Lindblad
1949 Sydney Chapman
1950 Joel Stebbins
1951 Anton Pannekoek
1952 John Jackson
1953 Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar
1954 Walter Baade
1955 Dirk Brouwer
1956 Thomas George Cowling
1957 Albrecht Unsöld
1958 André Danjon
1959 Raymond Arthur Lyttleton
1960 Viktor Ambartsumian
1961 Herman Zanstra
1962 Bengt Strömgren
1963 H. H. Plaskett
1964 Martin Ryle Maurice Ewing
1965 Gerald Maurice Clemence Edward Bullard
1966 Ira Sprague Bowen Harold Clayton Urey
1967 Allan Sandage Hannes Alfvén
1968 Fred Hoyle Walter Munk
1969 Martin Schwarzschild Albert Thomas Price
1970 Horace W. Babcock
1971 Richard van der Riet Woolley Frank Press
1972 Fritz Zwicky H. I. S. Thirlaway
1973 Edwin Salpeter Francis Birch
1974 Ludwig Biermann K. E. Bullen
1975 Jesse Greenstein Ernst Öpik
1976 William H. McCrea J. A. Ratcliffe
1977 John G. Bolton David R. Bates
1978 Lyman Spitzer James Van Allen
1979 C. G. Wynne Leon Knopoff
1980 Maarten Schmidt Chaim L. Pekeris
1981 Bernard Lovell J. Freeman Gilbert
1982 Riccardo Giacconi Harrie Massey
1983 M. J. Seaton Fred Whipple
1984 Yakov Borisovich Zel'dovich S. K. Runcorn
1985 Stephen Hawking Thomas Gold
1986 Alexander Dalgarno George E. Backus
1987 Martin Rees Takesi Nagata
1988 Cornelis de Jager Don L. Anderson
1989 Ken Pounds Raymond Hide
1990 B. E. J. Pagel James W. Dungey
1991 Vitaly Ginzburg G. J. Wasserburg
1992 Eugene N. Parker Dan P. McKenzie
1993 Donald Lynden-Bell Peter Goldreich
1994 James E. Gunn Thomas R. Kaiser
1995 Rashid Sunyaev John T. Houghton
1996 Vera Rubin Kenneth Creer
1997 Donald Osterbrock Donald Farley
1998 James Peebles Robert L. Parker
1999 Bohdan Paczyński Kenneth Budden
2000 Leon Lucy Robert Hutchison
2001 Hermann Bondi Henry Rishbeth
2002 Leon Mestel J. A. Jacobs
2003 John Bahcall David Gubbins
2004 Jeremiah P. Ostriker Grenville Turner
2005 Margaret Burbidge
Geoffrey Burbidge
Carole Jordan
2006 Simon White Stan Cowley
2007 John L. Culhane Nigel O. Weiss
2008 Joseph Silk Brian Kennett
2009 David A. Williams Eric Priest
2010 Douglas Gough John Woodhouse
2011 Richard Ellis Eberhard Grün
2012 Andy Fabian John Brown
2013 Roger Blandford Chris Chapman
2014 Carlos Frenk John Zarnecki
2015 Michel Mayor Mike Lockwood
2016 John D. Barrow Philip England
2017 Nick Kaiser Michele Dougherty
2018 James Hough Robert White
2019 Robert Kennicutt Margaret Kivelson
2020 Sandra Moore Faber Yvonne Elsworth
2021 Jocelyn Bell Burnell Thorne Lay
2022 George Efstathiou Richard B. Horne
  1. ^ Silver medalists: Jean-Louis Pons, Charles Rümker
  2. ^ Silver medalists: Mark Beaufoy, William Samuel Stratford
  3. ^ a b The first woman to receive the Gold Medal was Caroline Herschel in 1828. No other woman did so until Vera Rubin in 1996.
  4. ^ Replaced by testimonial medals, awarded to John Couch Adams, George Biddell Airy, Friedrich Wilhelm Argelander, George Bishop, George Everest, Peter Andreas Hansen, Karl Ludwig Hencke, John Herschel, John Russell Hind, John William Lubbock, Urbain Le Verrier & Maxmilian Weisse
  5. ^ Margaret and Geoffrey Burbidge received the first joint award since 1886

See also

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