Thomas George Cowling

Thomas George Cowling


Date of Birth
June 17, 1906
Date of Death
June 16, 1990

A student of E. Arthur Milne at Oxford, Thomas Cowling did research with Sydney Chapman at Imperial College, London and taught applied mathematics at the universities of Wales (University College Swansea), Dundee, Manchester, and Bangor. From 1948 until his death he was at the University of Leeds, from which he retired in 1970. His early work on stellar structure included studies of convection and radiation in transporting stellar energy and the stability of stars. He was first to compute a stellar model (the “Cowling model”) with a convective core and a radiative envelope. This work paralleled that of Ludwig Biermann, with whom he sometimes collaborated by correspondence. Later Cowling studied sunspots and developed much of the theory of magnetic fields in stars and magnetospheres, including the Sun-Earth connection. He wrote several influential books in applied mathematics.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Mercury 14, 40 (1985). See also Physics Today 38(6), 89 (1985).

Other awards

Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1956, presented by H. Jeffreys, MNRAS 116, 229 (1956).
Royal Society, Hughes Medal, 1990.

Some offices held

Royal Astronomical Society, President, 1965-67.

Biographical materials

Cowling, Thomas, “Astronomer by Accident,” Ann. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 23, 1-18 (1985).
Dormy, Emmanuel & Virginia Trimble, Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 260-61.
Mestel, L., Biographical Memoirs of the Royal Society of London, 37, 103-25 (1991).
Mestel, L., “Cowling’s Life and Work,” Geophysical & Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics 62, 3-14 (1991).


Tayler, R.J., QJRAS 32, 201-05 (1991).

Academic genealogy


Named after him

Minor Planet #12139 Tomcowling


Papers, etc.

The AIP Niels Bohr Library & Archives has a 1978 oral history interview with Cowling.

Other References: Historical

Arny, Thomas, “The Star Makers: A History of the Theories of Stellar Structure and Evolution,” Vistas in Astronomy 33, 211-33 (1990).

*Biermann, L., “Comets and their Interaction with the Solar Wind,” QJRAS 12, 417-32 (1971).

Cowling, T.G., “The Development of the Theory of Stellar Structures,” QJRAS 7, 121-37 (1966).

*Cowling, T.G., “Magnetic Fields in Astronomy,” QJRAS 12, 348-51 (1971).

*Cowling, T.G., “The Solar Wind,” QJRAS 12, 447-52 (1971).

Cowling, T.G. & L. Mestel, “L.F.B. Biermann—Obituary,” QJRAS 27, 698-700 (1986).

*Hide, R., “Magnetohydrodynamics of Rotating Fluids: A Summary of Some Recent Work,” QJRAS 12, 380-83 (1971).

Holcomb, Robert W., “Astrophysics: Model Proposed for Galactic Magnetic Field,” Science 168, 811 (1970).

Hufbauer, Karl, Exploring the Sun: Solar Science since Galileo (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, Baltimore, 1991).

*Kahn, F.D., “Cosmic Rays and Interstellar Matter,” QJRAS 12, 384-401 (1971).

*Mestel, L., “The Theory of Magnetic Stars,” QJRAS 12, 402-16 (1971).

*Severny, A.B., “Time Fluctuations of the General Magnetic Field of the Sun,” QJRAS 12, 363-79 (1971).

Stern, David P. & Mauricio Peredo, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Magnetospheres other than Ours

*Tayler, R.J., “Magnetohydrodynamic Stability Problems in Astrophysics,” QJRAS 12, 352-62 (1971).

*Weiss, N.O., “The Dynamo Problem,” QJRAS 12, 432-46 (1971).

*Papers presented as part of the Cowling symposium on magnetic problems in astronomy, 1971 [Introduction by G.A.J. Ferris & G.A. Goldsworthy].

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Other References: Scientific

Cowling, T.G., “On the Radial Limitation of the Sun’s Magnetic Field,” MNRAS 90, 140-54 (1929).

Cowling, T.G., “On a Point-Source Model of a Star,” MNRAS 91, 92-108 (1929).

Cowling, T.G., “On the Radial Limitation of the Sun.’s Magnetic Field,” MNRAS 91, 92-108 (1930).

Cowling, T.G., “Note on the Fitting of Polytropic Models in the Theory of Stellar Structure,” MNRAS 91, 472-79 (1931).

Cowling, T.G., “The Radii of Stellar Models,” Zeitschrift für Astrophysik 4, 331-38 (1932).

Cowling, T.G., “The Magnetic Field of Sunspots,” MNRAS 94, 39-48 (1933).

Cowling, T.G., “The Stability of Gaseous Stars,” MNRAS 94, 768-82 (1934) and 96, 42-60 (1935).

Cowling, T.G., “Convection in Stars,” Observatory 58, 243-47 (1935).

Cowling, T.G., “The Structure of Sunspots,” MNRAS 96, 15-19 (1935).

Cowling, T.G., “The Stability of Convective Stars,” MNRAS 98, 528-35 (1938).

Cowling, T.G., “On the Motion of the Apsidal Line in Close Binary Systems,” MNRAS 98, 734-43 (1938).

Chapman, Sydney and T. G. Cowling, The Mathematical Theory of Non-uniform Gases; An Account of the Kinetic Theory of Viscosity, Thermal Conduction and Diffusion in Gases (Cambridge University Press, 1939, 1952, 1970, 1991).

Cowling, T.G., “The Non-radial Oscillations of Polytropic Stars,” MNRAS 101, 367-75 (1941).

Cowling, T.G., “On Alfven’s Theory of Magnetic Storms and of the Aurora,” Journal of Geophysical Research 47, 209-214 (1942).

Harrison, Marjorie Hall, “The Generalized Cowling Model,” Ap.J. 100, 343-46 (1944).

Cowling, T.G., “On the Sun’s General Magnetic Field,” MNRAS 105, 166-74 (1945).

Cowling, T.G., “The Electrical Conductivity of an Ionized Gas in a Magnetic Field, with Applications to the Solar Atmosphere and the Ionosphere,” Proc. Roy. Soc. London. Series A 183, 453-79 (1945).

Cowling, T.G., “The Growth and Decay of the Sunspot Magnetic Field,” MNRAS 106, 218-24 (1946).

Cowling, T.G., “Alfvén’s Theory of Sunspots,” MNRAS 106, 446-56 (1946).

Cowling, T.G. & R.A. Newing, “The Oscillations of a Rotating Star,” Ap.J. 109, 149-58 (1949).

Cowling, T.G., “The Condition for Turbulence in Rotating Stars,” Ap.J. 114, 272-86 (1951).

Cowling, T.G., “The Beginning of the Universe,” Nature 168, 259-60 (1951).

Gardiner, J.G., “Integration of the Cowling Stellar Model,” MNRAS 111, 94-101 (1951).

Babcock, H.W. & T.G. Cowling, “General Magnetic Fields in the Sun and Stars,” MNRAS 113, 357-407 (1953).

Cowling, T.G., Molecules in Motion (Hutchinson’s University Library, London, 1950; Harper, 1960).

Cowling, T.G., “Solar Electrodynamics,” in G.P. Kuiper, ed., The Sun (The Solar System, vol. I) (Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1953), p. 532

Babcock, H.D. & T.G. Cowling, “General Magnetic Fields in the Sun and Stars,” MNRAS 113, 357 (1953).

Cowling, T.G., “Dynamo Theories of Cosmic Magnetic Fields,” Vistas in Astronomy 1, 313-22 (1955).

Cowling, T.G., “The Dissipation of Magnetic Energy in an Ionized Gas,” MNRAS 116, 114-24 (1956).

Colwing, T.G., “Nuclear Reactions in Stars,” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London A 260, 170-75 (1961).

Colwing, T.G., “Magnetohydrodynamics,” Reports on Progress in Physics 25, 244 (1962).

Cowling, T.G., “The Solar Wind,” Observatory 89, 217-22 (1969).

Cowling, T.G., “ Approximate Theories of Thermal Diffusion,” Journal of Physics A: General Physics 3, 774 (1970).

Cowling, T.G., “Sunspots and the Solar Cycle,” Nature 255, 189-90 (1975).

Cowling, T.G., “On the Thermal Structure of Sunspots,” MNRAS 177, 409-14 (1976).

Cowling, Thomas, Magnetohydrodynamics, (Interscience, 1957; Adam Hilger, Bristol, 1976).

Cowling, T. G., “The Present Status of Dynamo Theory,” Ann. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 19, 115-35 (1981).

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Other Works: Popularizations, History, etc.

Cowling, T.G., “The Theory of Stellar Structure, 1932-1942,” Observatory 64, 224-28 (1942).

Cowling, T.G. & D.H. Sadler, “The Re-opening of the Pulkovo Observatory,” Observatory 74, 151-55 (1954).

Cowling, T.G., “A Tribute to Sydney Chapman,” QJRAS 11, 381 (1970).

Cowling, T.G., “Vincent Ferraro as a Pioneer of Hydromagnetics,” QJRAS 16, 136-44 (1975).

Cowling, T.G., “Mathematicians, Astrology and Cosmogony,” QJRAS 18, 199-212 (1977).

Cowling, T. G., Isaac Newton and Astrology (Leeds Univ. Press, Leeds, UK, 1977).

Cowling, T.G., “Astrology, Religion and Science,” QJRAS 23, 515-26 (1982) [1981 Milne Lecture] [Corrigendum].