Coyne, born January 19, 1933, in Baltimore, Maryland, completed his bachelor's degree in mathematics and his licentiate in philosophy at Fordham University, New York City, in 1958. He obtained his doctorate in astronomy from Georgetown University in 1962. In 1976 he became a senior research fellow at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) of the University of Arizona (UA) and a lecturer in the UA Department of Astronomy. The following year he served as Director of the UA's Catalina Observatory and as Associate Director of the LPL. Coyne became Director of the Vatican Observatory Research Group in 1978, and also Associate Director of the UA Steward Observatory.
During 1979-80 heserved as Acting Director and Head of the UA Steward Observatory andthe Astronomy Department, and thereafter he continued as an adjunct professor in the UA Astronomy Department. He retired as Director of the VO in August 2006. He remains on the staff of the VO as Director Emeritus and President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. A memberof the Society of Jesus since the age of 18, he completed the licentiate in sacred theology at Woodstock College, Woodstock, Maryland, and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1965.
Coyne's research interests have been in polarimetric studies of varioussubjects including the interstellar medium, stars with extendedatmospheres and Seyfert galaxies, which are a group of spiral galaxieswith very small and unusually bright star like centers. (Polarimetry isthe technique of measuring or analyzing the polarization of light. Whenlight rays exhibit different properties in different directions, thelight is said to be polarized.) Most recently he has been studying thepolarization produced in cataclysmic variables, or interacting binarystar systems that give off sudden bursts of intense energy, and dustabout young stars.
He is a member of the International Astronomical Union, the AmericanAstronomical Society, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, theAmerican Physical Society and the Optical Society of America. He hasbeen awarded the following Ph.D. degrees honoris causa: 1980, St.Peter's University, Jersey City, New Jersey, USA; 1994, LoyolaUniversity, Chicago, USA; 1995, University of Padua, Padua, Italy;1997, Pontifical Theological Academy, Jagellonian University, Cracow;2005 Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; 2007 BostonCollege, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.