Fred Watson

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For the Australian footballer, see Fred Watson (footballer).
Fred Watson
Fred Watson 2014 07 22.JPG
Fred Watson answering a question at Macquarie University on 22 July 2014.
Born (1944-12-14) 14 December 1944 (age 70)
Bradford, West Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Fields Astronomy
Institutions Australian Astronomical Observatory
Alma mater University of St Andrews (BSc 1967, MSc 1975)
University of Edinburgh (PhD 1987)
Thesis Multi-Object Astronomical Spectroscopy with Optical Fibres (1987)

Frederick Garnett "Fred" Watson AM (born 14 Dec 1944) is an astronomer and popular scientist in Australia. In 1995 Watson became astronomer in charge of the Australian Astronomical Observatory, but is best known for his work with science outreach, for which he has written many books, as well as musical and choral works. On top of his many nationwide radio slots with the ABC, Watson has also been a frequent guest on The Project. In January 2010, Watson was made a Member of the Order of Australia for service to astronomy, particularly the promotion and popularisation of space science through public outreach.

Early life[edit]

Watson was born in 1944 near Bradford, West Yorkshire in England, where he attended Belle Vue Boys' School.[1] He completed his higher education at University of St Andrews, Scotland, where he obtained a degree in mathematics and physics in 1967. In 1975 he completed his masters degree in astronomy at St Andrews and gained his PhD from University of Edinburgh in 1987.[Note 1]

Watson confesses developing "an early love of music", which he used to help pay for his studies by playing guitar in folk clubs,[1] and which he now applies in his work with Science Outreach.



The Australian Astronomical Observatory, a division of the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, operates the Anglo-Australian and UK Schmidt telescopes on behalf of the astronomical community of Australia. To this end the Observatory is part of and is funded by the Australian Government. Its function is to provide world-class observing facilities for Australian optical astronomers.

Watson participates directly in the Radial Velocity Experiment (RAVE), measuring the radial velocities and metallicities of up to 1 million stars in the Milky Way Galaxy and is active in developing instrumentation for this project.

Other positions currently held:

Science Outreach[edit]

A wide cross-section of the public read articles written by Watson in Australian Geographic, and Sir Patrick Moore's Yearbook of Astronomy in the UK.


  • 2003 David Allen Prize from the Astronomical Society of Australia "for communicating astronomy to the public".[2]
  • 2004 asteroid 5691 was named "Fredwatson" in his honour by the International Astronomical Union (although he is always at pains to point out that if it hits the Earth, it won’t be his fault).
  • 2005 Warrumbungle Shire’s Coonabarabran Citizen of the Year[3]
  • 2005 Rotary NSW Northern District Award for Vocational Excellence[3]
  • 2006 Australian Museum Eureka Prize for Science Communication.[4]
  • 2008 Queensland Literary Prize for Science Writing for Why is Uranus Upside Down? and Other Questions About the Universe.[5]
  • 2010 Member of the Order of Australia "for service to astronomy, particularly the promotion and popularisation of space science through public outreach".[6]
  • 2013 Bragg UNSW Press Prize for Science Writing for Here come the ubernerds: Planets, Pluto and Prague (from Star-Craving Mad: Tales from a travelling astronomer, Allen & Unwin).[7][8]
  • Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.[9]
  • APRA Choral Work of the Year award for his contribution on Star Chant, a choral symphony by the Australian composer Ross Edwards, which also used celestial images by David Malin, and premiered at the Adelaide Festival in 2002.


Fred Watson in 2013

Watson has written several popular science books.

  • Binoculars, Opera Glasses and Field Glasses, published by Shire Album
  • Stargazer, the life and Times of the Telescope, published by Allen & Unwin, with versions available in America, The Netherlands, Korea, and most recently Japan.
  • Why is Uranus upside down?, published by Allen & Unwin, with a UK version published by Summersdale. This received the 2008 Queensland Literary Prize for Science Writing
  • Star-Craving Mad: Tales from a travelling astronomer published by Allen & Unwin


  • Star Chant is a collaboration with Australian Composer Ross Edwards. This was the fourth choral symphony written by Edwards, for which Watson wrote the libretto. As a multi-media work, celestial images by David Malin are included. Star Chant premiered at the Adelaide Festival in March 2002, and has also been performed at the Sydney Opera House.
    Star Chant received several awards, including 2008 APRA award for the Choral work of the Year.[10][11]
  • An Alien Like You (2009) is a lighthearted look at the Universe with excerpts from the book Why is Uranus upside down? with Fred playing folk guitar and singing.
  • Watson contributed the libretto for a further Edwards choral piece, Mountain Chant,[12] which was first performed by the Melbourne Chorale in June 2003.


Watson has a regular spot on ABC Radio which he devotes to answering astronomical questions from listeners; and he is a regular speaker at astronomical society meetings. He is also a frequent guest on Channel 10's popular news show The Project. He is a frequent speaker at events and conferences and has a busy schedule speaking to astronomical societies, schools and public groups.


  1. ^ Watson, F.G (1987). Multi-object astronomical spectroscopy with optical fibres (PhD). Edinburgh University. Retrieved 3 January 2013. 


  1. ^ a b Buchanan, Matt (25 January 2010). "Starstruck from an early age". The Brisbane Times. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  2. ^ "Astronomer Fred Watson wins Communication Award". Anglo-Australian Observatory. 21 July 2003. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Fred Watson". Royal Institution of Australia. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  4. ^ Boleyn, Tilly (26 August 2006). "Eureka Prizes 2006". Transcript: Australian Broadcasting Commission The Science Show. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  5. ^ "Queensland Premier's Literary Awards winners". 2008 Science Writer Award. Archived from the original on 28 January 2015. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  6. ^ "It's an Honour: Australia Celebrating Australians". Australian Government. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  7. ^ "AG's astronomer wins science writing award". Australian Geographic (NineMSN). 31 October 2013. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  8. ^ "Prize for Science Writing". 2013 WINNER: University of New South Wales Press Ltd. 
  9. ^ ""Out of this World" Honour for Australian Astronomer". Anglo-Australian Observatory. 
  10. ^ Edwards, Ross; Mills, Richard, (Conductor.); Sexton, Timothy, (Director.); Crossin, Carl, (Director.); Adelaide Philharmonia Chorus; Adelaide Symphony Orchestra; Adelaide Chamber Singers (2007), Star chant, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, retrieved 3 January 2013, Booklet includes programme notes, 'The astronomy of Star Chant' by Fred Watson 
  11. ^ "APRA|AMCOS : 2008 Winners". APRA|AMCOS. July 2008. Retrieved 3 January 2013. 
  12. ^ Edwards, Ross; Watson, Fred, 1944-. Mountain chant; Hildegard Saint, 1098-1179. O quam preciosa (2005), Mountain chant three sacred choruses, Ricordi, retrieved 5 January 2013