Astronomy Achievement Timeline, 1960-1975


  • Alan Sandrage, protege of Edwin Hubble, discovers a starlike object emitting radio waves.  It is later categorized as a quasar [“quasi-stellar radio source”], an extremely luminous AGN (active galactic nucleus), about 4 billion light years distant; and labeled 3C 48.


  • Frank Drake writes the eponymous Drake equation which speculates about the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life.


  • During a new moon and total solar eclipse, an extremely rare grand conjunction of the classical planets takes place, including all five of the naked-eye planets plus the sun and moon, all within 16° of each another on the ecliptic.
  • Penumbral lunar eclipse.
  • Annular solar eclipse.
  • The Orbiting Solar Observatory 1(OSO 1) Program, a series of launches on Delta Rockets to place telescopes into Low Earth orbit, starts in 1962 and extends to 1975.  Primarily intended to study the sun, the program enables the exploration of a variety of space phenomena near and far from earth.


  • Using the 200-inch Palomar Observatory telescope, Caltech astronomer, Maarten Schmidt, reports his discovery of an extraordinary large redshift (wavelength of an object’s radiation increases) of the object 3C 273 discovered in 1962 far beyond the Milky Way. Redshift represents a recession speed of 29,500 miles/sec and the positive recognition of the first quasar.
  • The Arecibo Observatory, with the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, officially opens in Puerto Rico.
  • Through the study of the very fine striations on ancient corals, Cornell paleontologist John West Wells (1907-94) confirms an important astronomical idea: the earth is slowing (1/50,000 second/yr) in its rotation through the moon’s tidal friction, decreasing the number of days in a year.


  • First recognition of cosmic microwave background radiation as a detectable phenomenon.
  • Jet Propulsion Lab engineer Gary A. Flandro discovers an alignment of the planets of the outer solar system – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune – that occurs only every 175 years; proposes from this discovery the “Planetary Grand Tour” to take advantage of the “gravity-assist” method for cheaper and faster space travel, and NASA launches the general outer Solar System missions of Voyager I and II. From Fladdro’s research also came the Galileo mission to Jupiter, Cassini to Saturn, and New Horizons to Pluto.


  • At Bell Labs, Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson accidently find a persistent radio-wave background they cannot explain despite trying to clear all static from an antenna receiver system they had built for radio astronomy observations.
  • Astrophysicists (incl. Robert Dicke at Princeton) confirm in published material only before speculated: that a “big bang” left recognizable measurable cosmic background radiation.
  • Astronomers at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico discover Venus orbits in a different direction than the other solar system plants.
  • Discovery of NML Cygni, a red hypergiant and the largest star known, at about 1,650 times the Sun’s radius.


  • Notable display of the Leonids over the Americas.
  • Janus, one of the moons of Saturn, is identified by Audouin Dollfus (it had been first photographed on October 29).
  • Epimetheus, another of the moons of Saturn, is discovered, but mistaken for Janus which shares its orbit and they are not distinguished until 1978.


  • Werner Israel postulates the “no hair” theorem about the interior of black holes.
  • Pulsars discovered by Jocelyn Bell working with Antony Hewish at the University of Cambridge for which Hewish is awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1974. These rapidly pulsating radio sources are explained a year later as highly-magnetized rotating neutron stars.
  • NRAO builds a 36-foot radio telescope, later known as the ARO 12m Radio Telescope.
  • John A. Wheeler coins the dramatic phrase “black hole” to describe a place in space left by the collapse of a massive star [science journalist Ann Ewing may have first used the term]


  • Thomas Gold explains the recently discovered radio pulsars as rapidly rotating neutron stars; subsequent observations confirm the suggestion.
  • R.V.E. Lovelace, J.M. Sutton, and H.D. Craft find a pulsar using the Arecibo telescope in the center of the Crab Nebula in Taurus – the site of the supernova of July 4, 1054.
  • Astronomers using NASA’s third Orbiting Solar Observatoryreport a gamma-ray background coming from the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.


  • Known previously from radio signatures only, William Cocke, Donald Taylor, and Michael Disney identify a visible star associated with a pulsar, the pulsar in the Crab Nebula.
  • Comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko is identified by Soviet astronomers of the same name.




  • The International Time Bureau adds the first leap second to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).
  • The Planetary Science Institute founded at Tucson, AZ for basic research on astronomical areas such as comets, origins of life, the moon, planets, and asteroids.
  • A powerful series of solar storms causes extreme solar flaring and widespread geomagnetic disturbances (August 2-11); knocks out AT&T long-distance communications prompting a redesign of its land and transatlantic cables; causes detonation of naval mines near Haiphong, North Vietnam; produces a coronal cloud with the fastest transit time to earth ever recorded.
  • Robert Jastrow and M.H. Thompson surmised that as the high tides moved westward around the earth, pulled by the moon, the energy produced, if recovered, could supply electricity to power the world many times over.


  • Jeremiah Ostriker and James Pebbles determine that “dark matter” must occur in large halos around spiral galaxies to keep these galaxies flying apart; estimates that visible matter only about 10% to keep galaxies stable.
  • The “Big Ear” at the Ohio StateRadio Observatory begins a full-time search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) radio survey, running continuously until 1995.
  • Solar Eclipse (June 30) – very long total eclipse event visible in NE South America, the Atlantic, and central Africa. During the entire Second Millennium, only seven total solar eclipses exceed seven minutes of totality; this was the last.
  • The International Astronomical Union (est. Paris, 1919) names a 50-mile-wide crater on Mars (71.8 S, 49.7 W) for South African geologist, Alexander du Toit, for his 1930s painstaking contributions to plate tectonics that clarified the earlier theories of Alfred Wegener about continental movement, and culminated in the work of Hess, Dietz, and Wilson in the 1960s (see Geology Achievement Timeline).


  • Theoretical physicist, Brandon Carter, coins the term “anthropic principle,” a philosophical idea that states that we observe a universe the way it is because it allows us to live and develop as humans. Related to the idea of “a fine-tuned universe” idea voiced by Robert Dicke in 1961 and others.
  • Discovery of the first binary pulsar.
  • Sagittarius A is thought to be the location of a supermassive black hole; identified by Bruce Balick and Robert Brown using the baseline interferometer of the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory.


  • William Hartmann and Donald Davis of the Planetary Science Institute publish in the journal Icarusthe theory, later accepted (“Big Splash”), that the moon was formed by an object perhaps as large as Mars hitting the Earth 4.5 billion years ago – creating both the moon and the Earth’s 23.5°tilt.

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