Astronomer H-R diagram

Most people who've done an astronomy course will have heard of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. It was developed to show the relationships between the temperature (or colour) of a star and its luminosity. The other week I saw a tweet referring to someone as an "astronomy media star". This interesting stellar classification got me thinking about an alternative version of the H-R diagram. In my alternate reality I imagined a version classifying astronomers* and so, after a little consultation with other astronomers (thanks Sarah, Tess, Mike, Paul and Amanda) and some free time**, I present...

Click to embiggen. Apologies to Hertzsprung and Russell. If you are one of the names on this plot and you feel your numbers are very wrong, let me know and I'll update it. CREDIT: Stuart
This isn't in any way supposed to be accurate - it is qualitative - and most of the "Main Career Sequence" is invented based on expectations of an evolutionary sequence assuming little use of the internet before becoming an astronomer. Mega-stars such as Dr Brian May may follow a totally different path. Of course, not all astronomers make it along the main sequence and many go off to other jobs through either an "academia runaway" or a "funding instability crisis". The "dark astronomers" (we have dark matter and dark energy so why not?) are theorised to exist but haven't been directly detected so if you have evidence for one, please let me know.

For those wanting technical details, the data for the red stars comes from NASA's ADS/SPIRES-HEP (limited to peer review) and searching for the person's name (in quotation marks) on Google. Both numbers are affected by name-sake contamination and the Google-dance/search customisation adds to the uncertainty on the y-axis. Update 2010-07-22T11:10:00 UT: It turns out that Google gives wildly different results depending on which Google you are connected to. Being in the UK I was automatically redirected to and that is where these numbers come from. seems to produce more search results. I may re-make this plot using as the standard.

If anyone has the time to properly classify a few hundred astronomers you are welcome to do that and send me the data!

* I know Brian Cox is technically a particle physicist but he is the Sun Professor which makes him almost a solar physicist ;-)
** Internet-based diversions such as this usually result in people saying "he has too much free time". That is not entirely inaccurate.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Wednesday 21st Jul 2010 (12:36 BST) | 35 Comments | Permalink

Comments: Astronomer H-R diagram

It'd be interesting to see how H-R diagram will change if use ADS citation number instead of the number of papers.

Posted by Oleg Bartunov on Wednesday 21st Jul 2010 (12:18 UTC)

how do you get the google number exactly? is it the "page 1 of about # results" number just below the search box?

Posted by kelle on Thursday 22nd Jul 2010 (01:13 UTC)

gravatarKelle, search for the full name within quotation marks on Google and use the number as you say. What I've just realised is that you get wildly different numbers depending on which Google you are connected to. I always get dumped onto and it seems to massively under-report compared to Hmmm. All the numbers were from I may have to revise the plot. Grr Google.

Posted by Stuart on Thursday 22nd Jul 2010 (10:45 UTC)

Surely Brian May should be on there?

Posted by John Ilee on Thursday 22nd Jul 2010 (13:38 UTC)

Oh, wait, I have just read the paragraph underneath. But, Myleene Klass, really?

Posted by John Ilee on Thursday 22nd Jul 2010 (13:40 UTC)

The errorbars on the "absolute fame" must be huge. If I search for myself the number doubles simply by including my middle intial. I found that it then goes up enormously if, instead of using quotation marks I put in my geographic location as a keyword.

I'm either a main sequence astronomer, or I'm somewhere between Chris Lintott and Neil deGrasse Tyson (which seems unlikely)...

Posted by Ang on Thursday 22nd Jul 2010 (14:31 UTC)

Who is "proto astronomers" and "new-media branch"?

Posted by Alexander Wolf on Thursday 22nd Jul 2010 (16:21 UTC)

Well, I'm right on the main sequence.

Posted by John Gizis on Thursday 22nd Jul 2010 (16:58 UTC)

Presumably a better Google search is:

' "NAME" astronomy' or ' "NAME" astrophysics'

rather than just looking for:


Otherwise you can get a lot of false positives for astronomers with common names, or names with common words in them. My name tanks from about 8,000 hits to about 30 using this criterion.

Posted by Sam on Thursday 22nd Jul 2010 (17:14 UTC)

I agree that astro must be included in the search. My name produces 240,000 hits if astro is not included, and I am right on the MS with my just over 2000 hits with astro included.

Posted by Nata on Thursday 22nd Jul 2010 (17:36 UTC)

gravatarSome of the media stars need tweaking- ADS counts book reviews as refereed publications for some wacky reason, so some of those publication stats are bloated.

And I'm pretty close to a dark astronomer as a grad student if you calc my publications correctly (ie don't mix in those from the other person with my last name and first initial) and do a google full name search + astronomy. Tho perhaps that's where grad students who are up to no good belong ;-)

Posted by Erin on Thursday 22nd Jul 2010 (18:10 UTC)

gravatarThanks for all the comments.

I have spent this evening try to work out a good way to automate the collection of the numbers so that I could make an interactive version. However, I haven't found a way to scrape the number of results from the Google search results page.

I have found a paper titled "Measuring Celebrity" though. It uses a your GFNR (Google First Name Rank) and census data to calculate a CI (Celebrity Index). That isn't easy to automate :-(

Posted by Stuart on Thursday 22nd Jul 2010 (19:13 UTC)

Given that, at least for recent papers, Google search returns refereed papers, isn't there a physical limit to the left on the Dark Astronomer branch? You cannot have more refereed papers than Google citations...

Posted by Mordecai on Thursday 22nd Jul 2010 (20:39 UTC)


Wonderful piece of work! Would you mind if I reproduce your H-R diagram on my blog? Full credit and a link will be provided of course.


Posted by Tom on Friday 23rd Jul 2010 (06:39 UTC)

For the google part you should have a look to the google apis:

Posted by Philipp on Friday 23rd Jul 2010 (18:25 UTC)

Another issue with the Google search is that apparently it sometimes includes "similar" hits without telling you. A search for my name gives 3320 hits, but if I click through the pages, suddenly that turns into 176 hits, with other "similar" hits counted in the 3320.

I wonder if you could get a Hayashi track. A celebrity who decided to go into astronomy and disappeared into grad school for 6 years might follow such an evolutionary sequence :)

Posted by DS on Saturday 24th Jul 2010 (19:15 UTC)

I only see PhDs and grad students represented in that diagram. What about non-PhDs on a different astronomy career track?

Here's a job description. Some of us have been at it for over 20 years.

Posted by Shireen Gonzaga on Sunday 25th Jul 2010 (18:45 UTC)

gravatar@Tom, no problem. You are welcome to use it.

@Shireen I'm not sure why you think I have omitted instrumentalists. Most instrumentalists I know have papers so are part of this fame-paper space.

Posted by Stuart on Monday 26th Jul 2010 (16:17 UTC)

This is awesome, and I hope somebody does attempt to go into ADS and generate points for working astronomers to see if your "main sequence" hypothesis is correct.

As for me, I plot at the right edge of the graph with only one peer-reviewed publication to my credit (there is one in prep though). Another thing to add complication is that my one peer-reviewed pub was using my maiden name (Emily Stewart), an issue that will affect some women, disproportionately those who are older (when name changes were more common) and hence should plot at the high-paper end of the chart. Not that there are all that many older women in astronomy :(

Oddly, I got the same number of Google results (34,000) whether I went to or

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on Tuesday 27th Jul 2010 (20:17 UTC)

Where do the backyard enthusiasts sit?

Those lucky individuals with no or minimal formal qualifications that just stargaze and discover comets and so forth?

Posted by simon on Wednesday 28th Jul 2010 (20:11 UTC)

@Stuart, the non-PhD position that i mentioned (with a link) is not instrumentation. Research and Instrument Analyst/Scientists do both instrument and science support, and get published (some as first-authors).

Posted by Shireen Gonzaga on Wednesday 28th Jul 2010 (22:57 UTC)

gravatarOkay, so where does a grad student in the masters program at Swinburne fit in? Or do I just put myself in the red dwarf category since I'm a petite redhead?

Posted by Laurel Kornfeld on Thursday 29th Jul 2010 (05:10 UTC)

gravatarIs there a relationship between the number of stars and their temperature and luminosity? If so, what is it?

Posted by neurocyte on Thursday 29th Jul 2010 (15:42 UTC)

What about quantifying television appearances? Although it'd have to be done manually -- and maybe take it off the Main Fun Sequence -- it'd give a better idea of one's relative fame. I certainly consider Neil deGrasse Tyson more famous than Phil Plaitt, who gets a lot of Google hits due to his blogging, not all of which is astronomy based.

Maybe 1 point for being an expert on a science program, 5 for a news program, 10 for hosting a science program, and 100 for being the subject?

What about other astro-somethings like Lynn Rothschild?

Would it be appropriate and, then, even possible, to chart Einstein, Lowell and Hubble, and maybe even Newton, Galileo and Kepler?

How much is too much is your call.

Posted by Colonel Kernel on Thursday 29th Jul 2010 (17:17 UTC)

gravatarExcellent. And very funny. And makes one think. Excellence and funniness and thinkiness is a good combination.

Posted by Eric Baird on Thursday 29th Jul 2010 (21:16 UTC)

I concern whether the main sequence will turn upper-right when the astronomy society ages.....

Posted by Toby on Friday 30th Jul 2010 (04:23 UTC)

Clever concept. I'm wondering where sir Fred Hoyle would be situated. Possibly a couple of spots including the Dark variety.

Posted by andrew pattison on Friday 30th Jul 2010 (10:39 UTC)

It's kind of a nasty notion to pit science communication and publications against each other. It feeds into the ugly stereotype that those who undertake public outreach are somehow lesser scienctists than those who do.

Posted by professional_astronomer on Monday 02nd Aug 2010 (02:29 UTC)

You haven't plotted Hertzsprung or Russell!

A quick check suggests Ejnar Hertzsprung should plot at 209,186,000

Posted by Lab Lemming on Monday 02nd Aug 2010 (12:50 UTC)

gravatarProfessional_astronomer, "science communication" isn't pitted against anything; it is Google hits that is pitted against papers. So, your implication is that good science communicators are only those with many webpages mentioning their names. Just because you are famous doesn't necessarily make you a good science communicator and being a science communicator doesn't necessarily make you famous.

It isn't my fault that scientific careers are almost entirely built on papers. That is how the reward system is built into science; "publish or perish". That doesn't mean that I think this simplistic view is right or fair. I get very frustrated as I think outreach should also have a place in a professional scientist's career. Of course, my view no doubt stems from the fact that my outreach has probably had more impact than my science.

Posted by Stuart on Monday 02nd Aug 2010 (15:23 UTC)

Hmm, at ~(160, 200000) I seem

to be in a void. Maybe I'm on a

mixing line between Jocelyn Bell

and Stephen Hawking. Or is it

Carl Sagan and Carolyn Porco?

Writing books really boosts your

google rating due to all the online vendors. Harder to skew refereed papers (although H-index might be a better metric)

Posted by Ralph Lorenz on Wednesday 11th Aug 2010 (18:16 UTC)

Well, it looks like I am somewhere near the middle of main career sequence. Don't think I will ever produce enough helium to become famous.

Posted by David on Thursday 19th Aug 2010 (06:20 UTC)

gravatarGli studi di specializzazione nell'area del management sono, di norma, associati agli Stati Uniti, che da quasi un secolo hanno invaso il mondo

Posted by ghds on Monday 30th Aug 2010 (02:42 UTC)

It's A Wonderfull Blog

Posted by Pranav on Saturday 16th Apr 2011 (10:37 UTC)

Awesome! I found this via @AstroKatie.

The HR-Diagram is a great idea! @Lucretius21c has something similar for tweeting physicists and philosophers here:

I think your "Absolute Fame" measure of Google Hits is probably a more universally accepted level of fame than twitter followers.

Good work!

Posted by @wslaton on Sunday 06th Oct 2013 (15:29 UTC)


Don't provide an email/URL unless really necessary as your comment may get caught in the spam filter. No URLs get turned into links so don't bother. The ground rules for commenting are:
  1. No profanity or personal attacks please. Keep it clean.
  2. Restrict comments to subjects relevant to the post.
  3. Don't mention Pluto. If you do it'll be replaced by Goofy.
  4. No spam i.e. anything commercial unrelated to astronomy.
  5. If you think you've discovered a Theory of Everything, a replacement to Relativity, or something similar then please publish it in a journal rather than in my comments.
Comments against the spirit of these ground rules may be removed.

* required fields