Who we are? Where do we come from and where are we going? How and why was the Universe born? These are some of the eternal questions associated with astronomy that continue to pique human imagination from ancient times to the present day. Astronomy is the science that has as its main purpose the determination of the positions, dimensions and movements of the celestial bodies. So in this video we are going to talk about something magnificent that will help us understand the humanity’s perception over the years about astronomy. Let’s analyze and get deep into the history of astronomy.
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Astronomy is the oldest of the natural sciences and powerfully associated with religious, cosmological, and astrological beliefs. The first astronomers were the ones who could distinguish the planets and the stars due to the fact that they were the first ones that made observations and predictions.
From the beginning humanity turned its eyes to the sky full of awe and questions. The sunrise and sunset of the Sun, the phases of the Moon, the alternation of seasons, the movement of other planets in the sky, the appearance of comets and the shocking phenomenon of eclipses, were the first evidence that there is something above that needs to be discovered. That is how astronomy started to develop. These incidents raised our curiosity and made us wonder what are they? Where do they come from? We do know today but imagine in those days… they were like Gods.
As early as the 6th century BCE, ancient Greek philosophers documented evidence that Earth was a sphere. They noted that the night sky looked different when seen from various locations on Earth, hinting at our planet’s curved surface. They also observed the round shadow of Earth on the Moon during lunar eclipses. These philosophers were even able to calculate the circumference of Earth quite accurately. They did this by measuring the length of the shadow cast by an object at exactly the same time, in two different locations. Taking into account the distance between those two locations and the difference in the lengths of the shadows, they calculated that Earth’s circumference was about 46,250 kilometres. That is very close to the real value of 40,075 kilometres!
In the year 185, Chinese astronomers became the first to document a supernova. Several supernova explosions have been observed since then, including a particularly bright one in the year 1054, which (at its peak) was four times brighter than planet Venus, one of the brightest objects in the night sky. Some supernovae are even bright enough to be visible during the day!
The notion that our own galaxy – the Milky Way – is but one of trillions of other galaxies in the universe only dates back about a century. Before then, nearby galaxies were thought to be cloudy regions of the Milky Way. The first documented observation of the neighbouring Andromeda Galaxy was in the year 964 by a Persian astronomer who described it as a “nebulous smear.” For centuries, it was simply known in star charts as the “Little Cloud.”
Before the 16th century, Earth was commonly thought to be at the centre of the solar system, with all other celestial objects revolving around it. This is known as the geocentric model. This theory, however, did not match some confusing observations made by astronomers, such as the path of planets that appeared to move backwards on their orbits.
In 1543, Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus proposed a heliocentric model of the solar system in which the planets orbit the Sun. This model explained the unusual path of planets that astronomers had observed. The new theory was one of many revolutionary ideas about astronomy that emerged during the Renaissance period.
The work of astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler led to an accurate description of planetary motions and laid the foundation for Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation. This progress dramatically improved humanity’s understanding of the universe.
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