Header James Craig Watson Medal

Header James Craig Watson Medal

The James Craig Watson Medal is presented every two years for outstanding contributions to the science of astronomy and carries with it a gold-plated bronze medal, a $25,000 prize, and $50,000 to support the recipient’s research. The Watson Medal was established by NAS Member and prolific Canadian-American astronomer, James Craig Watson. Watson is credited with discovering twenty-two asteroids in his lifetime. He published many articles and wrote A Popular Treatise on Comets (1861) and Theoretical Astronomy (1868).

The Watson Medal was first awarded in 1887 to Benjamin Apthorp Gould for his work promoting the progress of astronomical science. Gould was not only an astronomer, but also active in securing the establishment of the National Academy of Sciences. Among other contributions to astronomy, Gould mapped the stars of the southern skies. This four-year long endeavor involved the use of the recently developed photometric method, and upon the publication of its results in 1879, it was received as a significant contribution to science.

Timothy M. Brown, principal scientist at Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope, received the 2016 winner of the James Craig Watson Medal. Brown has made many fundamental contributions to astronomy and astrophysics through instrument development, theory and interpretation, and observations. In the field of helioseismology—the study of the sun’s interior through the detection of subtle movements on the solar surface—he formulated a method to make extremely sensitive, linear Doppler-velocity images of the sun, called the “Fourier Tachometer.” The devices based on this method became key to the field of helioseismology and are used in both ground-based networks and spacecraft that now observe and study the sun. Asteroseismology applies the lessons of helioseismology to detect similar oscillations on other stars, which is challenging since the surfaces of these stars cannot be detected. Here, Brown’s pioneering instrument developments and observations led to major advancements in the field and to asteroseismology being included as a science goal of NASA’s Kepler star-observing mission. 

The one area where Brown has made the greatest contribution to modern astrophysics is in enabling the study of atmospheres of exoplanets—planets orbiting stars other than our own sun. Brown and David Charbonneau measured the first transits of an exoplanet, HD209458b, in front of its star, which allowed them to estimate the planet’s radius and density and infer its composition. Brown then went on to develop a method to study exoplanet atmospheres through analysis of the light of the planet’s parent star, which is altered when it travels through a planet’s atmosphere. Brown and colleagues employed this method to make the first detection of an exoplanet atmosphere using data gathered from the Hubble Space Telescope. This technique is now used by teams around the globe and has been applied to dozens of faraway worlds.


Timothy M. Brown (2016)
For his visionary scientific and technical advancements that have been critical to the fields of helioseismology, asteroseismology, and the emerging field of spectroscopy of transiting exoplanets, and for his critical role in helping a new generation of scientists and facilities to succeed.

Robert P. Kirshner (2014)
His work, with students using supernova light curves as calibrated standard candles, has provided evidence for an accelerating expansion of the universe. The dark energy inferred from this result is one of the deepest mysteries of modern science.

Jeremiah P. Ostriker (2012)
For his seminal contributions to the theory of the interstellar and intergalactic medium, his cosmological simulations that help illuminate the formation and evolution of structure in the universe, his theoretical contribution to the existence of Dark Matter halos around galaxies, and his dedication to the scientific and academic communities through service as provost, builder of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and as a mentor of generations of young astronomers.

Margaret J. Geller (2010)
For her role in critical discoveries concerning the large-scale structure of the Universe, for her insightful analyses of galaxies in groups and clusters, and for her being a model in mentoring young scientists.

Michael F. Skrutskie and Roc M. Cutri (2007)
For their monumental work in developing and completing the Two Micron All-Sky Survey, thus enabling a thrilling variety of explorations in astronomy and astrophysics.

Vera C. Rubin (2004)
For her seminal observations of dark matter in galaxies, large-scale relative motions of galaxies, and for generous mentoring of young astronomers, men and women.

David T. Wilkinson (2001)
For elegant precision measurements by Wilkinson, his students, and their students, of universal radiation that is close to blackbody yet wonderfully rich in evidence of cosmic evolution.

Carolyn S. Shoemaker and Eugene M. Shoemaker (1998)
For their painstaking research, which led to the discovery of more than 800 asteroids and 32 comets, including their co-discovery of Comet Shoemaker-Levy, the first comet observed colliding with a planet.

Yasuo Tanaka (1994)
For his leadership in X-ray astronomy since its beginning, and his crucial role in enabling the U.S./Japanese collaboration in the ASCA mission, a beautiful example of international cooperation in sciences.

Maarten Schmidt (1991)
First to grasp the extraordinary distances and luminosities of quasi-stellar sources and a pioneer in their use to probe the outer limits of our universe.

R. B. Leighton (1986)
For his work as creator and exploiter of new instruments and techniques that have opened whole new areas of astronomy to us all--solar oscillations, infrared surveys, spun telescopes, and large millimeter-wave reflectors.

W. Kent Ford, Jr. (1985)
For his work in the area of image enhancement and galactic dynamics, which has contributed greatly to the characterization of the unseen matter in galaxies.

Stanton J. Peale (1982)
For his contributions to the dynamics of solar-system bodies, especially for calculations leading to the prediction of volcanic action on Io, dramatically verified by Voyager photography.

Charles T. Kowal (1979)
For his noteworthy astronomical discoveries, particularly of Chiron, Leda, and numerous supernovae.

Gerald M. Clemence (1975)
For his long and distinguished career in Dynamical Astronomy and his independent determination of a completely new and more accurate Theory of the Motion of Mars.

André Deprit (1972)
In recognition of his resolution of the problem of lunar motion around the earth through his adaption of modern computing machinery to algebraic rather than arithmetic operations.

Jurgen K. Moser (1969)

Wallace J. Eckert (1966)
For his pioneering contributions to scientific computing and to the theory of the motion of the moon.

Paul Herget (1965)
For his scientific accomplishments in celestial mechanics and orbit computation, and particularly for his contributions to the knowledge of the orbits of asteroids.

Willem J. Luyten (1964)
For his outstanding contributions to the understanding of "white-dwarf" stars.

Otto Heckmann (1961)

Yusuke Hagihara (1960)
In recognition of his noteworthy contributions to astronomy.

George Van Biesbroeck (1957)
For his noteworthy contributions to astronomy.

Chester B. Watts (1955)

Herbert R. Morgan (1951)
For his distinguished contributions to fundamental astronomy, more specifically his interpretation of transit circle observations.

Samuel A. Mitchell (1948)
For his observations of solar eclipses, in particular a detailed study of the spectrum of the chromosphere which has contributed notably to our knowledge of the sun's atmosphere.

Ernest W. Brown (1936)

Willem De Sitter (1929)
In recognition of his research in astronomy.

C. V. L. Charlier (1924)
For his outstanding contributions to astronomical science concerning motion and distribution of the stars, and in celestial mechanics.

Armin O. Leuschner (1916)
For the skill and ability shown in supervising the preparation of the tables of the Watson asteroids, involving original methods, and leading to results of value to celestial mechanics.

J. C. Kapteyn (1913)
In recognition of his bold and penetrating researches in the problem of the structure of the stellar universe.

David Gill (1899)
For his work in perfecting the application of heliometer to astronomical measurements, which has resulted in an important advance in astronomy of precision, especially in the determination of parallaxes of the sun and stars and of the position of the planets.

Seth C. Chandler (1894)
For his researches on the variations of latitude.

G. F. J. A. Auwers (1891)
For his researches in sidereal astronomy, including the reduction of Bradley's observations.

Ed Schoenfeld (1889)
For his services in cataloguing and mapping the stars visible in our latitudes, and especially for his recently published southern Durchmusterung.

Benjamin A. Gould (1887)
For his valuable labors for nearly forty years in promoting the progress of astronomical science.

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