Astronomy throughout History

 

The study of planets, stars, galaxies, and intergalactic and interstellar space falls under the field of astronomy. Thousands of years ago, the earliest civilizations observed the heavens. Because astronomers of the past set the foundation for today's astronomy, it is an interesting journey to take a look through the history of astronomy.  How did they figure out how big around the Earth is? Who was the first astronomer to recognize galaxies outside our own? What must've it been like to look through Galileo's first telescope to see the craters on the Moon?  Were people stunned when Halley correctly predicted the return of a comet?

Archeoastronomy is different than looking at the history of astronomy. It sets to find out just how astronomy fit into a certain culture's life.  Were women ever allowed or encouraged to be astronomers in ancient times? Did the builders of Stonehenge incorporate into its structure an eclipse prediction system? How did the Mayan calculate the length of a year with such accuracy without a computer?

This section will take you on a journey through time, across the continents and into the lives of people from all times and places. It will touch on the history of astronomy, archeoastronomy and more. Please choose which way you would like to begin your journey:

 

Journey through Time           Journey by Region                 Meet the People

 

 

Involved Archeoastronomy

The movements of the heavenly bodies are an admirable thing, well known and manifest to all peoples. There are no people, no matter how barbaric and primitive, that do not raise up their eyes, take note, and observe with some care and admiration the continuous and uniform course of the heavenly bodies." - Bernabe Cobo (1653)

From the beginning, man has observed the heavens. Early man observed the heavens because the Sun, Moon and stars gave indication of coming seasons to farmers and hunters. The sky aided in navigation especially for nomads and sailors. And many ancient civilizations thought the sky gave signs of life, war, earthquakes, the fate of kingdoms...and more.

The new field of archeoastronomy started in the 1960s with discoveries at Stonehenge. Archeoastronomy has been called the 'anthropology of astronomy' to distinguish it from the history of astronomy. This means that archeoastronomy pays attention to the astronomical practices, mythologies, and religions of ancient cultures. It sets to find out just how astronomy fit into a certain culture's life.  And so it touches on ancient calendar systems, concepts of time and space, mathematics (especially counting systems and geometry), navigation, and architecture. Archeoastronomers will look at imagery and writing left by a civilization. They will look at architecture, especially to see if the buildings have any orientations towards the Sun or Moon or even Venus. The most common orientation is to look for alignment with sun rise on the date of a solstice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Astronomy Timeline

 

This is a timeline of important events in astronomical history. Some events which are not specifically astronomical in nature are listed to give historical perspective as to what was happening in those times.

Date

Location

Event

3,200 B.C.

Ireland

Newgrange is built.

3,000 B.C.

England

Stonehenge is built.

~2,000 B.C.

Egypt and Mesopotamia

First solar-lunar calendars

~280 B.C.

            Samos (Alexandria)

Aristrachus suggests the Earth revolves around the Sun. He provides first estimation of Earth-Sun distance.

~240 B.C.

            Cyrene (now Shahhat, Libya)

Eratosthenes measures the circumference of the earth with surprising accuracy!

~130 B.C.

            Greece

Hipparchus develops the first acccurate star map and star catalogue with over 850 of the brightest stars.

45 B.C.

Roman Empire

Introduction of the Julian calendar, a purely solar calendar, to the Roman Empire.

140 A.D.

Greece

Ptolemy suggests geocentric theory of the universe in famous work Mathematike Syntaxis.

813 A.D.

Iraq

Al Mamon founds the Baghdad school of astronomy.

1054 A.D.

China

Chinese astronomers observe supernova in Taurus.

1543 A.D.

Poland

Copernicus publishes his heliocentric theory of the Universe.

1572 A.D.

Denmark

Tycho Brahe discovers a supernova in constellation of Cassiopeia.

1582 A.D.

Italy

Pope Gregory XIII introduces the Gregorian calendar.

1603 A.D.

Germany

Johann Bayer introduces Bayer designation of stars, assigning Greek letters to stars, still in use today.

1608 A.D.

Netherlands

Hans Lippershey, a Dutch spectacles maker invents the telescope.

1609 A.D.

Italy

Galileo uses telescope for astronomical purposes. He discovers 4 Jovian moons, the Moon's craters and the Milky Way galaxy.

1609 A.D.

Germany

Kepler's First and Second Laws of Planetary Motions are announced.

1609 A.D.

Germany

The Third Law of Planetary Motion is announced by Kepler in his work Harmonice Mudi (Harmony of the World).

1656 A.D.

Netherlands

Christian Huygens discovers Saturn's rings and Titan, the fourth satellite of Saturn.

1659 A.D.

Netherlands

Huygens notes markings on Mars.

1666 A.D.

Italy

Martian polar ice caps are noted by Cassini.

1668 A.D.

England

The first reflecting telescope was built by Newton.

1669 A.D.

Italy

Geminiano Montanari discovers the star Algol is not steady in brightness, thus recognizing the first variable star.

1675 A.D.

France

While in Paris, Danish astronomer Ole Romer measures the speed of light.

1675 A.D.

France

Cassini discovers that Saturn's rings are split into two parts, so that today the gap is called the "Cassini Division".

1687 A.D.

England

Newton publishes his theory of universal gravitation in the work Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. This is seen to be the start of Modern Astronomy.

1705 A.D.

England

Halley correctly predicts the return of a comet (Halley's comet) in 1758.

1758 A.D.

Germany

Johann Palitzsch observes Halley's comet as predicted by Halley in 1705.

1781 A.D.

England

The discovery of Uranus by Herschel

1781 A.D.

France

Messier discovers galaxies, nebula and star clusters while looking comets. He compiles a catalogue of these objects (Messier objects).

1801 A.D.

Italy

Piazzi discovers first asteroid, Ceres.

1842 A.D.

Austria

Discovery of the 'Doppler Effect' by Austrian physicist and mathematician, Christian Doppler.

1843 A.D.

Germany

Samuel Heinrich Schwabe describes the sunspot cycle.

1846 A.D.

Germany

Johann Galle observes and discovers Neptune. His observations were prompted by mathematical calculations by French astronomer Joseph Leverrier and English astronomer John Couch Adams.

1860-63 A.D.

England

The beginning of spectral analysis of stars by Sir William Huggins

1868 A.D.

England

Jansen and Lockyer observe solar prominences.

1872 A.D.

U.S.A.

Henry Draper takes a photograph of the stellar spectrum of Vega. This is the first of its kind.

1877 A.D.

U.S.A.

Asaph Hall discovers Phobos and Deimos, the moons of Mars.

1877 A.D.

Italy

Shiaparelli observes the canals on Mars.

1878 A.D.

Jupiter

The Great Red Spot on Jupiter becomes prominent.

 

 

 

Person

                       Region where they lived

                            and worked...

                                                  Lifetime

  'Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi

                      Persia

                                               10th century A.D.

  Aristotle

                      Greece

                                               384-322 B.C.

  Tycho Brahe

                      Denmark

                                               1546-1601 A.D.

  Giovanni Cassini

                      Italy

                                               1625-1712 A.D.

  Nicolas Copernicus

                      Poland

                                               1473-1543 A.D.

  Leonardo Da Vinci

                      Italian

                                               1452-1519 A.D.

  Democritus

                      Greece

                                               470-380 B.C.

  Christian Doppler

                      Austria

                                               1803-1853 A.D.

  En Hedu' Anna

                      Babylonia

                                               ~2354 B.C.

  Eratosthenes

                      Cyrene (now Shahhat, Libya)

                                               276-197 B.C.

  Galileo Galilei

                      Italy

                                               1564-1642 A.D.

  Edmond Halley

                      England

                                               1656-1742

  William Herschel

                      England

                                               1738-1822 A.D.

  Hipparchus

                      Greece

                                               190-120 B.C.

  Christian Huygens

                      Netherlands

                                               1629-1695 A.D.

  Hypatia

                      Egypt

                                               370-415 A.D.

  Johan Kepler

                      Germany

                                               1571-1630 A.D.

  Simon Marius

                      German

                                               1573-1624 A.D.

  Isaac Newton

                      England

                                               1642-1727 A.D.

  Plato

                      Greece

                                               427-327 B.C.

  Ptolemy

                      Greece

                                               85-165 A.D.

  Pythagoras

                      Greece

                                               580-520 B.C.

  Socrates

                      Greece

                                               470-399 B.C.

  Thales

                      Greece

                                               624-546 B.C.

 

Astronomy Regions of Interest

 

These regions are ones that are of most interest in the astronomy of long ago, i.e., it will mainly cover regions where people were practicing astronomy from 4,000 B.C. to the age of modern astronomy (1687 when Newton issued his universal Law of Gravitation). We will of course be adding to this section frequently! If you would like to see a region or event added to this list, please submit your suggestion to our comments system.

 

     Region

                            Points of Interest

  Africa

                Ancient Egyptian Astronomy

                Aristrachus - first estimation of Earth-Sun distance

                Eratosthenes - circumference of the Earth

  Babylonia

                Ancient Babylonian Astronomy

  British Isles

                Newgrange Passage Tomb

                Stonehenge Stone Monument

                The founding of archeoastronomy

  Central America

                Ancient Mayan Astronomy

  China

                Ancient Chinese Astronomy

  Denmark

                Tycho Brahe - incredible naked-eye astronomer

  Germany

                Johann Bayer - Bayer system of star designation

                Kepler - Laws of Planetary Motion

  Greece

                Hipparchus - first star map

                Ptolemy - geocentric theory of the universe

  Italy

                Galileo - used one of the 1st telescopes

  Netherlands

                Hans Lippershey, inventor of the telescope

  Poland

                Copernicus - heliocentric theory of the universe

  Roman Empire

                Julian calendar (solar calendar)