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  • This timeline lets you see aspects of Beatrice's life and work, and how these fit into a wider science picture of cosmology. A full transcript is underneath.

    Beatrice Hill Tinsley – cosmologist

    • Changing scientific ideas
    • Advances in science and technology
    • Biography


    Changing scientific ideas

    Each specialised field of science has key ideas and ways of doing things. Over time, these ideas and techniques can be revised or replaced in the light of new research. Most changes to key science ideas are only accepted gradually, tested through research by many people.

    Advances in science and technology

    All scientists build their research and theories on the knowledge of earlier scientists, and their work will inform other scientists in the future. A scientist may publish hundreds of scientific reports, but only a few are mentioned here.


    This part of the timeline outlines just a few events in the personal life of the featured person, some of which influenced their work as a scientist.


    The universe is eternal and unchanging – 1898

    From the late 1800s to the early 1900s it is thought that the universe had no beginning, will stay the same for ever and is uniform everywhere. All stars are the same and unchanging. Everything in the night sky is inside the Milky Way.

    Image: Released into the public domain by NASA

    The universe is not eternal and is changing – 1923

    By the 1920s there is evidence that stars are not all the same, and they change over time. There is structure to the universe, with galaxies outside our own.

    The universe is not eternal, it had an origin – 1929

    With new evidence that the universe is expanding, scientists begin to think that the universe had an explosive origin. This later becomes known as the Big Bang theory.

    The universe is eternal but changing – 1948

    The ‘steady-state theory’ suggests that, as the universe expands, new matter is continuously created to fill in the gaps.

    Big Bang theory generally accepted – 1965

    By the mid 1960s new evidence convinces most cosmologists that there had been a ‘Big Bang’. This is the end of the steady-state theory.


    The universe has a structure – 1901

    In the early 1900s is is discovered that electromagnetic radiation from stars shows that they are not all the same. The Milky Way is shown to have a spiral shape – there is structure in the universe.

    The universe measured – 1912

    Henrietta Leavitt uses variable stars to measure distances.

    Image: Public domain

    Stars change – 1914

    Ejnar Hertzsprung and Henry Norris Russell create a diagram relating star brightness to colour. They think stars have a life cycle.

    The universe is unchanging – 1917

    Albert Einstein develops general theory of relativity. He uses it to support the idea of an unchanging universe (he later admitted he was wrong).

    Image: Public domain

    Not everything is in the Milky Way – 1920

    Edwin Hubble shows that galaxies are too far away to be in the Milky Way.

    Image: The Huntington Library , San Marino, California

    The universe is expanding – 1922

    Alexander Friedmann uses Einstein’s general theory of relativity to predict that the universe is expanding.

    The universe had an origin – 1927

    Georges Lemaitre pioneers the idea that the universe was made by an explosion of matter.

    Image: Public domain

    Galaxies are moving away from us – 1929

    Edwin Hubble shows that the most distant galaxies are moving away fastest.

    Image: The Huntington Library , San Marino, California

    First radio map of universe – 1942

    Grote Reber maps many sources of radio waves in the universe, having built the first radio telescope in 1937.

    Image: National Radio Astronomy Observatory / Associated Universities, Inc. / National Science Foundation

    Term ‘Big Bang’ first used – 1948

    Fred Hoyle coins the term ‘Big Bang’, though he disagrees with the theory.

    Image: Department of Physics and Astronomy, Clemson University

    A steady-state universe? – 1948

    Hermannn Bondi, Thomas Gold and Fred Hoyle suggest new matter is continuously created to fill in the gaps as the universe expands.

    Image: Public domain

    The universe is changing – 1955

    Martin Ryle uses radio astronomy to show there is an uneven distribution of galaxies and that there were more galaxies in the past.

    Remnants of Big Bang – 1965

    Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discover the remnants of a Big Bang, called microwave background radiation. It had been predicted in 1948.

    Beatrice Hill Tinsley’s PhD thesis published – 1967

    The thesis Evolution of galaxies and its significance for cosmology is a major advance, using data in computer models – an amazing effort, considering the computer technology available at this time.

    A universe from nothing – 1973

    Edward Tyron suggests that the universe could have been created from absolutely nothing.

    Image: Rob Robbins

    Expanding universe – 1974

    With Richard Gott, James Gunn and David Schramm, Beatrice Hill Tinsley publishes an important cosmology paper. It provides data and arguments to support an expanding universe.

    Beatrice publishes important review – 1980

    The paper “Evolution of the stars and gas in galaxies” becomes an important basis for cosmology for many years.

    Inflationary universe – 1980

    Alan Guth develops a model for the birth of the universe – called ‘inflationary universe’ – including an expansion much faster than that predicted in the Big Bang theory.

    Largest structure in the universe – 1987

    Brent Tully announces largest known super-cluster of galaxies – the largest structure in the universe.

    Image: Brent Tully

    Wrinkles in space – 1992

    The Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite detects variations in cosmic microwave background radiation of the early universe. Dense areas are ‘seeds’ for formation of galaxies.

    Big Bang part of science culture – 1993

    13,099 entries are received in an international competition to rename the ‘Big Bang’. Judges decide to keep the original name.

    Universe in a nutshell – 2001

    Stephen Hawking publishes The universe in a nutshell – a book that brings modern cosmology to the public eye.

    Image: Released into the public domain by NASA

    Oldest galaxy – 2008

    NASA space telescopes use gravitational lensing to detect a galaxy 13 billion light years away. This is the oldest galaxy known, formed just 750 million years after the Big Bang.


    Beatrice Hill born in England – 1941

    Publishes later work under married name Tinsley, but prefers to be known as Hill Tinsley.

    Moves to New Zealand – 1946

    5-year-old Beatrice and her family move from England to New Zealand. They first live in Christchurch, before settling in New Plymouth.

    New Plymouth Girls’ High School – 1953

    Beatrice attends New Plymouth Girls’ High School from 1953 to 1957. Although keen on music, Beatrice decides on astrophysics as a career, but remains a musician all her life.

    Canterbury University – 1958

    Beatrice is one of very few women studying maths and physics at the time. She gets MSc in physics in 1963.

    Marries Brian Tinsley – 1961

    Brian is an astrophysicist and a fellow student.

    Moves to America – 1963

    Brian gets a university job in Dallas, Texas. Beatrice wants her own career as scientist but, like many women at the time, finds it hard to be accepted.

    Adopts first child – 1966

    Baby Alan adopted from New Zealand.

    Awarded PhD – 1967

    Beatrice continues to struggle to have her work accepted in a male-dominated field.

    Image: The NZ Listener

    Adopts second child – 1968

    Baby Teresa adopted from Dallas, Texas.

    Divorces Brian – 1974

    The couple’s divorce enables Beatrice to pursue her own career.

    Moves to Yale University – 1975

    The start of a huge impact on cosmology, with Beatrice publishing over 100 papers during her lifetime and also becoming a teacher and mentor of students.

    Made Professor at Yale – 1978

    Beatrice becomes the first female professor of astronomy at Yale. She is diagnosed with a melanoma the same year.

    Dies of cancer, aged 40 – 1981

    Despite surgery and chemotherapy, the cancer spreads, and Beatrice dies in 1981, aged 40.

    Asteroid Beatrice Tinsley – 1981

    Asteroid 3087, a minor planet, is discovered at Mt John Observatory, New Zealand, and named in honour of Beatrice Tinsley.

    Tinsley Prize – 1986

    The American Astronomical Society names an award in her honour.

    Beatrice Tinsley Institute – 2009

    University of Canterbury forms the Beatrice Tinsley Institute for New Zealand Astronomy and Astrophysics.

    Annual lecture series – 2012

    The Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand start an annual series of astronomical lectures named after Beatrice.

    Rights: University of Waikato Published 5 November 2009, Updated 12 September 2017 Referencing Hub media
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