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History of Astronomy









The history of astronomy goes back to ancient times. However until the invention of the telescope it was limited to studying and recording the apparent positions and motions of the sun, Moon, stars and planets. Since astronomers began using telescopes knowledge regarding the sun, Moon, stars and planets has increased rapidly. With telescopes much more of the Solar System than was previously known was discovered, including the planets Uranus and Neptune, Dwarf Planets like Pluto and Ceres. Telescopes also expanded the known size of the universe as well as finding planets orbiting other stars. Space Telescopes have caused an explosion the available knowledge form astronomy beyond what could have been imaged 100 years ago.

Ancient Astronomy

Astronomy goes back to ancient times. Before telescopes it was limited to naked eye observations but some ancient astronomers had measuring tools. Ancient astronomers usually tracked the motions of stars and planets. It involved finding the locations of stars during the course of a year and the relative positions of the planets. Ancient Astronomy was often associated with determining the time for planting and harvesting as well as the time religious ceremonies. Ancient Astronomy was also involved in the making and checking of calendars. Much of ancient Astronomy also was associated with astrology which is a pagan notion the our destiny is controlled by the position of stars and planets.


Ptolemy was a Greco-Roman Philosopher from the city of Alexandria. He was Born in 90 A.D. and died in 168 A.D. in Alexandria, Egypt. While he did many things Ptolemy is most known for his Geocentric Cosmology.

Here is a video animation of Ptolemy's Geocentric Cosmology
1 year = 10 seconds

Note that there are only five planets, that is because Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn the only planets visible to the naked eye.

Ptolemaic epicycle

Here is a simple illustration of the Ptolemaic astronomy basic elements. Planet rotates on an epicycle which rotates around the inside of a crystalline sphere with the Earth is slightly off center of the crystalline sphere. The out sphere was where Ptolemy thought the stars were. This system is an excellent example a philosophically driven model the needed substantial additional elements to make it fit reality.

Nicolaus Copernicus

Copernicus was the Renaissance mathematician and astronomer who developed the heliocentric model of the universe which puts the Sun at the center rather than the Earth. He was born on February 19, 1473 and died: May 24, 1543.

Here is a video animation of Copernicus' Heliocentric Cosmology
1 year = 10 seconds

Note that there are only five planets, that is because Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn the only planets visible to the naked eye.

Galileo Galilei

Galileo, was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher. He was born on February 15, 1564 and died on January 8, 1642. He was an early champion of Heliocentrism. Galileo was first know astronomer to use telescope resulting in his discovery of the four largest Moons of Jupiter; Callisto, Europa, Ganymede, Io; resulting in the being  referred to as the Galilean moons.

The biggest myth about Galileo is a bout his trouble with the Catholic Church. The myth is that he was prosecuted for teaching Heliocentrism in opposition to the Bible. This myth is false and it originated with the 19th century anti-Christian bigots William Draper and Dickson White. They tried to portray it as science vs. the Bible when in reality it was science vs. science and specifically Ptolemy vs. Copernicus. At the time Ptolemy was seen as an authority by the scientific establishment of his day. Also in one of his books Galileo had made the pope look like a buffoon thus belittling the pope’s office and authority over Heliocentrism vs. Geocentrism. This was happening in Italy at the height of the protestant reformation. His first trial was in1616, and the Pope’s authority over Europe was falling apart and Galileo was yet another challenge to his authority. Proponents of Heliocentrism in protestant counties such as Kepler had no problems from protestant churches on this issue.

Galileo's work helped pave the way for further development. Kepler’s discovery that planets orbit the sun in an ellipse. Newton’s development of the concept of gravity.

Tycho Brahe

Tycho Brahe was well known for his accurate astronomical and planetary observations. Tycho was born in December 14, 1546 and died in October 24, 1601. Most well known for his hybrid geocentric / heliocentric model of the universe.

Tycho’s hybrid geocentric / heliocentric model

Tycho’s cosmology was essentially geocentric, in that every thing ultimately went around the Earth. However it was part heliocentric in that the other planets were seen as going around the sun, while the sun went around the Earth. A modified version of Tycho’s model is held to by modern geocentrics. However despite the fact that heliocentricity is taught as fact in schools it is not absolutely true.

The real answer is that according to General Relativity both geocentricity and heliocentricity can be considered correct. This because according to General Relativity you can choose any frame of reference you want because they are all valid. However this does not included only geocentricity and heliocentricity but Mars-centricity, Venus-centricity and even Kepler-62f-centricity. It is simply a matter of choosing the most convenient frame of reference.

Johannes Kepler

A German astronomer, and mathematician. born on December 27, 1571 and died on November 15, 1630. He is best known for his laws of planetary motion. Kepler's laws were derived by use of the data collected by Tycho Brahe. These laws were for planetary orbits around the sun, but they apply to dwarf planets, asteroids, moons and satellite orbits as well.

First Law

All planets move in elliptical orbits, with the sun at one focus.

Second Law

A line that connects a planet to the sun sweeps out equal areas in equal times.

Third Law


Semimajor axis

(Earth Years)


Mercury 0.386 0.241 1.01
Venus 0.72 0.615 1.01
Earth 1 1 1.00
Mars 1.52 1.88 1.01
Jupiter 5.187 11.9 1.01
Saturn 9.533 29.5 1.01
Uranus 19.1333 84 1.01
Neptune 30 165 1.01

The square of the period of any planet is proportional to the cube of the semi-major axis of its orbit


The invention of the telescope is without question the single greatest advancement in Astronomy. While the telescope what originally invented to help sailors see distant objects on the sea it does the same for objects in space. This one step made it possible to seen the heavens beyond what the unaided eye can see. Since then as technology has improved the telescope has opened up the heavens to study like no other invention has.

Replica of  Galileo's refractor telescope

While he did not invent the telescope Galileo was the first know astronomer to use a telescope. It also allowed him to discover the four largest Moons of Jupiter as well as many other things in the solar system. Above is a replica of Galileo’s telescope.

Newton's reflector telescope

The invention of the reflecting telescope by Isaac Newton was the next major step forward for Astronomy. It enabled a larger objective magnifying surface area than could be obtain with a lens.

200 inch Mount Palomar telescope

Improved technology has lead to some very large telescopes. Including the 200 inch Mount Palomar telescope which use to be the largest in the world. With the invention of segmented mirrors its size has been surpassed by several times.

By Corrie Barklimore from Forbes, Australia (Parkes Radio Telescope Uploaded by Fabian_RRRR)
[CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Parkes_Radio_Telescope.jpg

The next big step was radio telescopes which by looking at the radio end of the spectrum shows aspects of the universe that can not be seen with eye. This the Parkas Radio Telescope in Australia.

The Hubble Space Telescope

Space telescopes have produced a giant leap for Astronomy. The Hubble Space Telescope and others have opened up unimagined details of the Universe. Eliminating atmospheric distortions results in amazing clarity in images and other forms of data. It is the next best thing to going there.

Space Probes

Space probes manned and unmanned have been the biggest advance for Astronomy since the telescope. An unmanned probe as flown by the Moon every major planet of the solar system as well as moons, asteroids and comets. With orbiting probes going to the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and some asteroids and a comet. Probes have actually landed on the Moon, Venus, Mars, Titian (moon of Saturn) and an asteroid. Only the Moon has ever been landed on by a manned mission. All such probes have provided far more information than could ever have been gained from both Earth and space based telescopes.


Astronomy has come a long way from looking up at the sky with the unaided eye. Modern astronomers can not only look at the universe with greater resolution but also at parts of the Electromagnet spectrum the human eye can not see at any resolution. This expanded access to the Electromagnet spectrum has shown aspects of the universe that could never be known only through the unaided eye.

The advent of large telescopes and telescopes in space has greatly expanded our knowledge of Universe. Being able to send probes to planets and other objects in the Solar System has done more than even the best telescopes could. Astronomy has literally opened up the universe.


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