The Star Book: An Introduction to Stargazing and the Solar System

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Astronomers took careful note of "guest stars" which suddenly appeared among the fixed stars. Also, the supernova that created the Crab Nebula in is an example of a "guest star" observed by Chinese astronomers, although it was not recorded by their European contemporaries. Ancient astronomical records of phenomena like supernovae and comets are sometimes used in modern astronomical studies. Maya astronomical codices include detailed tables for calculating phases of the Moon , the recurrence of eclipses, and the appearance and disappearance of Venus as morning and evening star.

The Maya based their calendrics in the carefully calculated cycles of the Pleiades , the Sun , the Moon , Venus , Jupiter , Saturn , Mars , and also they had a precise description of the eclipses as depicted in the Dresden Codex , as well as the ecliptic or zodiac, and the Milky Way was crucial in their Cosmology.

To the ancient Maya, Venus was the patron of war and many recorded battles are believed to have been timed to the motions of this planet. Mars is also mentioned in preserved astronomical codices and early mythology. Although the Maya calendar was not tied to the Sun, John Teeple has proposed that the Maya calculated the solar year to somewhat greater accuracy than the Gregorian calendar. The Arabic and the Persian world under Islam had become highly cultured, and many important works of knowledge from Greek astronomy and Indian astronomy and Persian astronomy were translated into Arabic, used and stored in libraries throughout the area.

An important contribution by Islamic astronomers was their emphasis on observational astronomy. In the 10th century, Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi Azophi carried out observations on the stars and described their positions, magnitudes , brightness, and colour and drawings for each constellation in his Book of Fixed Stars.

He also gave the first descriptions and pictures of "A Little Cloud" now known as the Andromeda Galaxy. He mentions it as lying before the mouth of a Big Fish, an Arabic constellation. This "cloud" was apparently commonly known to the Isfahan astronomers, very probably before AD.


In the late 10th century, a huge observatory was built near Tehran , Iran , by the astronomer Abu-Mahmud al-Khujandi who observed a series of meridian transits of the Sun, which allowed him to calculate the tilt of the Earth's axis relative to the Sun. He noted that measurements by earlier Indian, then Greek astronomers had found higher values for this angle, possible evidence that the axial tilt is not constant but was in fact decreasing. Natural philosophy particularly Aristotelian physics was separated from astronomy by Ibn al-Haytham Alhazen in the 11th century, by Ibn al-Shatir in the 14th century, [52] and Qushji in the 15th century, leading to the development of an astronomical physics.

After the significant contributions of Greek scholars to the development of astronomy, it entered a relatively static era in Western Europe from the Roman era through the 12th century. This lack of progress has led some astronomers to assert that nothing happened in Western European astronomy during the Middle Ages. Western Europe entered the Middle Ages with great difficulties that affected the continent's intellectual production.

The advanced astronomical treatises of classical antiquity were written in Greek , and with the decline of knowledge of that language, only simplified summaries and practical texts were available for study.

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The most influential writers to pass on this ancient tradition in Latin were Macrobius , Pliny , Martianus Capella , and Calcidius. In the 7th century the English monk Bede of Jarrow published an influential text, On the Reckoning of Time , providing churchmen with the practical astronomical knowledge needed to compute the proper date of Easter using a procedure called the computus.

This text remained an important element of the education of clergy from the 7th century until well after the rise of the Universities in the 12th century. The range of surviving ancient Roman writings on astronomy and the teachings of Bede and his followers began to be studied in earnest during the revival of learning sponsored by the emperor Charlemagne.

Building on this astronomical background, in the 10th century European scholars such as Gerbert of Aurillac began to travel to Spain and Sicily to seek out learning which they had heard existed in the Arabic-speaking world. There they first encountered various practical astronomical techniques concerning the calendar and timekeeping, most notably those dealing with the astrolabe. Soon scholars such as Hermann of Reichenau were writing texts in Latin on the uses and construction of the astrolabe and others, such as Walcher of Malvern , were using the astrolabe to observe the time of eclipses in order to test the validity of computistical tables.

By the 12th century, scholars were traveling to Spain and Sicily to seek out more advanced astronomical and astrological texts, which they translated into Latin from Arabic and Greek to further enrich the astronomical knowledge of Western Europe. The arrival of these new texts coincided with the rise of the universities in medieval Europe, in which they soon found a home.

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In the 14th century, Nicole Oresme , later bishop of Liseux, showed that neither the scriptural texts nor the physical arguments advanced against the movement of the Earth were demonstrative and adduced the argument of simplicity for the theory that the Earth moves, and not the heavens.

However, he concluded "everyone maintains, and I think myself, that the heavens do move and not the earth: For God hath established the world which shall not be moved. During the renaissance period, astronomy began to undergo a revolution in thought known as the Copernican revolution , which gets the name from the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus , who proposed a heliocentric system, in which the planets revolved around the Sun and not the Earth.

His De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium was published in Other figures also aided this new model despite not believing the overall theory, like Tycho Brahe , with his well-known observations. Brahe, a Danish noble, was an essential astronomer in this period. Later he moved to Prague and continued his work. In Prague he was at work on the Rudolphine Tables , that were not finished until after his death.

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After the death of Brahe, Kepler was deemed his successor and was given the job of complete Brahe's uncompleted works, like the Rudolphine Tables. Kepler was, however, the first to attempt to derive mathematical predictions of celestial motions from assumed physical causes. He discovered the three Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion that now carry his name, those laws being as follows:.

With these laws, he managed to improve upon the existing Heliocentric model. The first two were published in Kepler's contributions improved upon the overall system, giving it more credibility because it adequately explained events and could cause more reliable predictions. Before this the Copernican model was just as unreliable as the Ptolemaic model.

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This improvement came because Kepler realized the orbits were not perfect circles, but ellipses. Galileo Galilei was among the first to use a telescope to observe the sky, and after constructing a 20x refractor telescope. He, as the most famous example, had to faced challenges from church officials, more specifically the Roman Inquisition. Sir Isaac Newton developed further ties between physics and astronomy through his law of universal gravitation.

Realizing that the same force that attracts objects to the surface of the Earth held the Moon in orbit around the Earth, Newton was able to explain — in one theoretical framework — all known gravitational phenomena. In his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica , he derived Kepler's laws from first principles. Those first principles are as follows:.

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Thus while Kepler explained how the planets moved, Newton accurately managed to explain why the planets moved the way they do. Newton's theoretical developments laid many of the foundations of modern physics. Outside of England, Newton's theory took some time to become established.

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Descartes ' theory of vortices held sway in France, and Huygens , Leibniz and Cassini accepted only parts of Newton's system, preferring their own philosophies. Voltaire published a popular account in Laplace completed the theory of the planets, publishing from to Edmund Halley succeeded Flamsteed as Astronomer Royal in England and succeeded in predicting the return in of the comet that bears his name.

Sir William Herschel found the first new planet, Uranus , to be observed in modern times in The gap between the planets Mars and Jupiter disclosed by the Titius—Bode law was filled by the discovery of the asteroids Ceres and Pallas in and with many more following. At first, astronomical thought in America was based on Aristotelian philosophy , [78] but interest in the new astronomy began to appear in Almanacs as early as In the 19th century it was discovered that by Joseph von Fraunhofer , when sunlight was dispersed, a multitude of spectral lines were observed regions where there was less or no light.

Experiments with hot gases showed that the same lines could be observed in the spectra of gases, specific lines corresponding to unique elements. It was proved that the chemical elements found in the Sun chiefly hydrogen and helium were also found on Earth. During the 20th century spectroscopy the study of these lines advanced, especially because of the advent of quantum physics , that was necessary to understand the observations. Although in previous centuries noted astronomers were exclusively male, at the turn of the 20th century women began to play a role in the great discoveries.

In this period prior to modern computers, women at the United States Naval Observatory USNO , Harvard University , and other astronomy research institutions began to be hired as human "computers" , who performed the tedious calculations while scientists performed research requiring more background knowledge. For example, at the Harvard Observatory Henrietta Swan Leavitt discovered the cepheid variable star period-luminosity relation which she further developed into a method of measuring distance outside of the Solar System.

Annie Jump Cannon , also at Harvard, organized the stellar spectral types according to stellar temperature. In , Maria Mitchell discovered a comet using a telescope. According to Lewis D. Eigen, Cannon alone, "in only 4 years discovered and catalogued more stars than all the men in history put together. Although their discoveries and methods are taught in classrooms around the world, few students of astronomy can attribute the works to their authors or have any idea that there were active female astronomers at the end of the 19th century.

Most of our current knowledge was gained during the 20th century. With the help of the use of photography , fainter objects were observed. The Sun was found to be part of a galaxy made up of more than 10 10 stars 10 billion stars. The existence of other galaxies, one of the matters of the great debate , was settled by Edwin Hubble , who identified the Andromeda nebula as a different galaxy, and many others at large distances and receding, moving away from our galaxy.

Physical cosmology , a discipline that has a large intersection with astronomy, made huge advances during the 20th century, with the model of the hot Big Bang heavily supported by the evidence provided by astronomy and physics, such as the redshifts of very distant galaxies and radio sources, the cosmic microwave background radiation , Hubble's law and cosmological abundances of elements.

In the 19th century, scientists began discovering forms of light which were invisible to the naked eye: X-Rays , gamma rays , radio waves , microwaves , ultraviolet radiation , and infrared radiation. This had a major impact on astronomy, spawning the fields of infrared astronomy , radio astronomy , x-ray astronomy and finally gamma-ray astronomy. With the advent of spectroscopy it was proven that other stars were similar to the Sun, but with a range of temperatures , masses and sizes.

The existence of our galaxy , the Milky Way , as a separate group of stars was only proven in the 20th century, along with the existence of "external" galaxies, and soon after, the expansion of the universe seen in the recession of most galaxies from us. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Main article: Archaeoastronomy.

Main article: Mesopotamian astronomy. Further information: Babylonian astrology and Babylonian calendar. Main article: Indian astronomy. Further information: Jyotisha.

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Main article: Greek astronomy. Main article: Egyptian astronomy. Main article: Chinese astronomy. Main articles: Maya calendar and Aztec calendar. Main article: Astronomy in medieval Islam. Further information: Science in the Middle Ages. See also: Astronomia nova and Epitome Astronomiae Copernicanae.

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