| There is
no Nobel Prize for astronomy. The terms of the Nobel
bequest state that "The interest on which
shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to
those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred
the greatest benefit on mankind." It also lays out the
prize areas. A long-stading question is why no prize was
mathematics. Perhaps astronomy was omitted because
Nobel considered there were few practical benefits. In
actuality astronomy has had many practical consequences
and uses that continue to this day.
It is interesting to speculate about astronomers that could have received a prize. One of the most notable is Edwin Hubble, the man the Hubble Space Telescope is named after. Hubble went to high school in Wheaton, near Fermilab. Wheaton was also home to Grote Reber, a gifted but unschooled astronomer, who was the first person to map out the radio signal from our galaxy with a steerable radio dish. In the early days of Fermilab I got a call from Reber asking about neutrinos. I explained how enormous neutrino detectors were. That was the last we heard from him. Perhaps he should have followed his nose since Davis and Koshiba later received a Nobel prize in this area (see below). D. S. L. Soares has described the case for a Hubble prize. In any case there have been a handful of physics prizes that touched on cosmology, astronomy, and space science.
Chandrasekhar and Fowler received the 1983 prize for the theory of the inner working of stars and for studies of the nuclear physics processes that led to stellar burning and the evolution of the elements. Some have argued that Fred Hoyle should have shared in this prize. Note that Hans Bethe had received the 1967 prize for his studies of the energy production in stars.
"astronomy prize" was the 2002 award to Ray
Davis , Masatoshi Koshiba, and Riccardo Giacconi.
Giacconi, the first director of the Hubble Telescope, was
awarded the prize for his seminal contributions to x-ray
astronomy. Koshiba and Davis pioneered a new field,
neutrino astronomy. Koshiba is a person who thinks big.
When he visited Fermilab in the early days he talked to us
about an experiment that would have used all of the Meson
Laboratory, a facility that typically ran six or seven
experiments at a time.
Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson (NOT Fermilab's first director) won the the 1978 prize for yet another kind of astronomy, the observation of the millimeter radio waves associated with the so-called three degree or black body radiation from the birth of the Universe. These results have spawned ever more careful programs including COBE led by Mather and Smoot with a prize in 2006 and WMAP. Related to this line of investigation was the award of the physics prize in 2011 "for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observation of distant supernovae" by Perlmutter, Schmidt and Riess.
Finally there are two sets of prize awards for work related to the neutron star, or so-called pulsar. One was for the intitial discovery by Jocelyn Bell Burnell , a Cambridge graduate student, and Anthony Hewish. (Martin Ryle shared the prize with Hewish in 1974 for pioneering work in radio telescopes.) Jocelyn Bell did not participate in that award. She says it does not rankle but it should. Two decades later Hulse and Taylor won for work on a new type of pulsar that opened up the field of experimental work on gravitational phenomena. Like Jocelyn Bell, Hulse did his work as a graduate student. Others have received the prize for work done as graduate students. One of my graduate student contemporaries at Illinois was John Schrieffer. With Bardeen and Cooper he received the 1972 prize for fundamental contributions to the theory of superconductivity done when he was a graduate student. A reasonable person would argue that Bell should have received a prize.