Cherenkov was born in 1904 to Aleksey and Maria Cherenkov in the small village of Novaya Chigla in Voronezh Oblast, Russia.
He graduated from the Department of Physics and Mathematics of Voronezh State University in 1928, in 1930 he took a post as a senior researcher in the Lebedev Institute of Physics. That same year he married Maria Putintseva, daughter of A.M. Putintsev, a Professor of Russian Literature. They had two children together, a son, Aleksey, and a daughter, Elena.
Cherenkov was promoted to the section leader, and in 1940 he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Physico-Mathematical Sciences. In 1953 he was confirmed as Professor of Experimental Physics. Starting in 1959, he headed the institute's photo-meson processes laboratory. He remained a professor for fourteen years. In 1970 he became an Academician of the USSR Academy of Sciences.
Cherenkov died in Moscow on January 6, 1990, and was interred in Novodevichy Cemetery.