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Jonathan Christopher McDowell (born 1960) is an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He is a staff member at the Chandra X-ray Center. McDowell is the author and editor of Jonathan's Space Report, an e-mail-distributed newsletter documenting satellite launches.[1]


Education and careerEdit

McDowell has a BA in Mathematics (1981) from Churchill College and a PhD in Astrophysics (1986) from the Institute of Astronomy, both at the University of Cambridge, England. After high school, McDowell worked for six months at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich and held a summer job at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh before he began his PhD studies. His first post-doctoral position was at Jodrell Bank followed by another at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. McDowell then moved to Huntsville, Alabama, where he spent a year at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Since 1992, McDowell has been back in Cambridge, Massachusetts, working as a staff member at the Chandra X-ray Center.

Research interestsEdit

McDowell's main research interests include:

  • the cosmological microwave background
  • the X-ray emission from the merging galaxy Arp 220
  • the nature of the broad emission line region in quasars
  • the broad-band spectral energy distribution in quasars
  • studying nearby galaxies with the Chandra X-ray Observatory

On the software side, McDowell helped design the CIAO[2] data analysis package and the software infrastructure for the Chandra X-ray Observatory data processing pipelines. More recently, McDowell led the creation of an exhibit of astronomical images at the Smithsonian.[3] He is co-director of an undergraduate summer research program whose alumni include Alicia M. Soderberg and Planet Hunters scientist Megan Schwamb .[4]

Jonathan's Space ReportEdit

In his free time, McDowell conducts research into the history of the space program, and since 1989 has written and edited Jonathan's Space Report, a free internet newsletter documenting technical details on satellite launches. This information, culled from original sources including declassified Department of Defense documents and Russian-language publications, can also be found on McDowell's web site.[5]


From 1993 to 2010, McDowell wrote a monthly column for Sky and Telescope. In addition, McDowell has been interviewed on numerous television and radio programs[6] with regard to rocket launches or other celestial phenomena that generated interest amongst the general public.


The main-belt asteroid 4589 McDowell was named after him in 1993.[1]


In addition to his astronomical activities, McDowell has been engaged in progressive activism, for example Planned Parenthood, and other social endeavors such as promoting skepticism and atheism [7][8][9]. He has also redefined the edge of space as being 80 km (50 mi), not 100 km (62 mi), in order to help Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, who in 2018 admitted their craft would only reach 80km 'but it was still space'.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Schmadel, Lutz D. (2007). "(4589) McDowell". Dictionary of Minor Planet Names – (4589) McDowell. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. p. 395. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-29925-7_4518. ISBN 978-3-540-00238-3.
  2. ^ Chandra Interactive Analysis of Observations
  3. ^ The Evolving Universe
  4. ^ SAO REU Summer Intern Program
  5. ^ Jonathan's Space Report
  6. ^ "Jonathan McDowell - Media Narcissism".
  7. ^ Boston Atheists
  8. ^ Harvard Humanists
  9. ^ Boston Skeptics