Cite examples before telescopes

Cite examples of Astronomical phenomena known to astronomers before telescopes
Modern scopes have been a long time in the making. Astronomy is one of the oldest natural
sciences, its origins dating back before prehistoric times. It is the study and observation of
objects in the sky, such as planets, stars, comets, asteroids and nebulae. In the past, there
was not a distinction between astronomy and astrology (fortune telling by putting forward
the notion of a relationship between astronomical peculiarities, such as Halley’s Comet, and
human events); however, in the present era, astronomy and physics have become a closely
linked discipline, whereas the reputation of astrology has arguably declined in prestige due
to its inaccuracy and lack of reliability.
Since prehistoric times, humans have been
fascinated with the wonders of the night sky; the first documentation of astronomy was in
Babylon (modern day Iraq) in 1645 BC.Halley’s Comet is perhaps one of the best examples
of objects being observed throughout the length and breadth of history; it was first seen by
various ancient kingdoms such as the Chinese around 240 BCE and the Greeks between
467-466 BCE. Its sighting often preceded great events, such as the Norman Conquest of
Britain in 1066, and can be clearly seen in the Bayeux Tapestry. It was later found in 17581759 by Edward Halley, to which the comet is now named after. Another classic example of
early astronomy is the famous stone structure of Stonehenge, essentially a giant ‘machine’
which calculated the position of the Sun and planets in the Solar System in relation to each
other, as well as predicting the times of eclipses.
Finally, the modern-day Gregorian calendar
was based upon the solar calendar which measured the duration of one complete orbit of
planet Earth around the Sun. Previous calendars, such as the Chinese calendar, relied on
the complete orbit of the Moon around Earth, which was approximately 30 days. When
ancient kingdoms and empires rose up, they worshipped deities who represented the sky,
the universe or the cosmos. Such examples include Nut of Ancient Egypt, who ruled the
skies and heavens and Chang’e, the Chinese deity of the moon. The mysteries of what was
out there and the desire to discover more about the velvety night sky and what it held
continued into the middle ages.
With the tide of the Renaissance period in the 15th Century came ‘modern’ forms of
astronomy with never before seen technology like the telescope. Nicolaus Copernicus
changed the dominant Western way of viewing the Earth in relation to the Sun by proving
that the Earth moved around the Sun, not the other way round; he rewrote the heliocentric
theory which argues that the Earth and other planets revolve round the Sun. The art of
astronomy became a fundamental aspect of European and Chinese exchanges throughout
the 17th Century where Western ways of astronomy slowly seeped into China through Jesuit
missionaries, where it was also undergoing major discovery and change itself. However, it
was not until the 19th Century when the Copernicus philosophy became mainstream thinking
in China. In comparison, the heliocentric principle was fully accepted in Japan when Jesuits
visited the islands in the 17th Century. Telescopes were received with much appraise and
enthusiasm at the royal courts in Beijing.
The telescope, a fundamental tool in being able to purvey the
skies, was invented in the 17th Century in the Netherlands, but Galileo Galilei is often
associated and credited, being the first pioneer in astronomy as well as the first person to
use a telescope in 1609. He is also the namesake of the Galilean moons, four satellites
located near Jupiter called Io, Ganymede, Europa and Callisto. Isaac Newton is also
credited within the annals of astronomical history as the pioneer of the Law of universal
gravitation from that famous incident when he observed an apple fall, and deduced the
Moon was drawn towards the Earth because of its gravitational pull. Newton is also credited
with making the first reflecting telescope which used either single or a number of reflected
mirrors. Throughout the 18thand 19th centuries, more and more was being discovered, like
the gas giant planet Uranus in 1781 by Sir William Herschel and the asteroid belt between
Mars and Jupiter in 1801.
The rise of technology in the 20th century brought this intricate art to the general public, and
allowed an unprecedented number of people to purchase telescopes investigate the skyline
and pursue their fantasies of never-ending space. Physical cosmology has also taken great
strides and advances in its works; research into redshift (electromagnetic radiation
wavelength increase) as well as microwave radiation have been shown to prove the
existence of the Big Bang. And in 1990, the Hubble telescope was the first telescope to be
launched into space, taking never seen before images of far-flung planets, nebulae and
solar systems with picture-perfect clarity. The advent of modern technology has also
allowed further discoveries of planets not only in our Solar System, but in others too. It has
also led to an unprecedented number of journals and further research- around 9000
journals have been published thanks to the ground-breaking work that the telescope has
been able to conduct. The Hubble Telescope has also been fundamental in measuring the
distances to ‘Cepheid’ stars; prior to the launch, this was often measured with 50%
inaccuracy, but now there is around ten per cent leeway. Black holes have also been
proven to exist, thanks to the photographs sent by the telescope. Furthermore, the
telescope was used to discover a new moon which orbits Pluto (now not considered a
planet, but rather a large icy object in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune). It is hoped with the
launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018 that much older galaxies will be seen
with its ability to penetrate dust, and to discover more and more distant objects like quasars
and galaxy clusters. It will orbit the Earth, much in the same manner as the Hubble Space
Astronomy Before the Telescope
It is difficult to appreciate how important the sky overhead was to our ancestors. In an age of
artificial light, the night sky has vanished for most city dwellers. Amateur astronomers travel
hundreds of miles to find a location dark enough to reveal the wonders of the heavens. For our
ancestors, the sky represented the chief means of telling time, of navigation, of knowing when to
start planting crops. The sky was a practical tool of survival and they developed sophisticated
tools for measuring the subtle changes from season to season, from month to month, and even
from day to day. Surviving tools include the items shown below. Many ancient astronomical
devices show up in auctions, including astrolabes, sundials, and astrological tables. Many of
these are clever fakes, and many are simply crude reproductions, not intended to fool anyone,
produced for the home decór market. Granted that a Mayan sacrificial temple is unlikely to
appear on eBay anytime soon, but reproductions of astrolabes and other pre-telescopic devices
do show up there. This page presents an assortment of genuine artifacts from museums around
the world.
Click on a photo for a more detailed enlargement.
500 B.C. A late Babylonian tablet containing an important
astronomical compendium. This tablet is only 8.4cm high, and is a miniature
masterpiece of Babylonian cuneiform writing. British Museum, WA 86378.
The Babylonians developed precise mathematical formulas for predicting
astronomical events. Their mathematical theory is elegant, concise, and
capable of predicting lunar and planetary phases and positions with
astounding accuracy. Many researchers feel the Babylonian techniques
represent the first true scientific revolution
Venus, normally the third-brightest "star" in the sky,
was of supreme importance to most old cultures. The
Mayans conducted raids against neighboring tribes by
checking the position of Venus for the timing of a battle.
The "Caracol" at Chichén Itzá provided an elevated
platform for making such observations. The northeast
and southwest corners are aligned perfectly with the
winter solstice sunset and the summer solstice sunrise.
The windows and several other features of the Caracol are aligned with the position of Venus on
the horizon when it rises and sets at certain times of the year. The dense jungle makes it
impossible to do any astronomy without a clearing, and even then, the horizon is obscured by
thick, high vegetation on all sides. I remember climbing the steps of Caracol. Suddenly, the
incredibly flat panoply of the jungle was spread out before me in all directions, like a vast green
desert. The horizon was unobstructed all around. Had I brought a telescope, this would have been
the perfect place to set it up. I spent most of the evening at Chichén Itzá, seeing the stars as our
ancestors saw them (this was before it was developed into a tourist attraction and the site was
flooded with artificial lighting, laser light shows, hotels, parking lots, etc.) In the old days, on a
moonless night I can remember it being so dark that I could see my shadow by the light of
Venus. Now I look for dark skies in ancient archaelogical sites that haven't been "developed".
A.H. 1203 (A.D.1788/9). The astrolabe was originally
invented by the Greeks, but made far more precise by Arab
astronomers. The viewer looked through a pair of sighting
holes on each end of the long arm. The face of the astrolabe
held a disc that could be removed and replaced by other discs,
much like a computer. Each disc was used in traveling for a
different latitude. By sighting on certain stars and aligning the
astrolabe with the north star, the user could determine a precise
time for his location. On the back is a sine/cosine quadrant graphs of meridian latitutes for the
sun for seven latitudes, graphs of azimuths of numerous stars, a shadow-square, scales of cotangents, and astrological tables. This astrolabe was made by Hajji Ali, and is a fine example of
the astrolabes made in Persia during the Safavid period. The maker is unique among astrolabe
makers in numbering his work. Ten of the fourteen astrolabes made by him were numbered.
The astronomical compendium at right was made by Johann Anton
Linden in 1596. It consists of an astrolabe with a rete for 34 stars, a table
with the exact location of 29 stars, a lunar aspectarium, a table with the
longitude and latitude of 70 towns, and a calendar fo the years 1596-1625.
(British Museum MLA 57,11-67,1)
Late 17th-century Italian Copernican armillary sphere. Made of
beechwood and covered with paper, with engraved, hand-drawn and handcolored circles. Marbled Florentine paper with gilt decoration. The sun is at
the center, surrounded by an ecliptic (zodiac) circle and a polar circle. The
underside is inscribed in ink die 29 Mensia Xtoris 1621. This date is
misleading. Paper was extremely expensive and and it was a typical Florentine
practise to re-use it. The date refers to the paper, not the armillary sphere.
The written records of the Babylonians, the alignment of Stonehenge and the great sacrificial
temples of the Mayans and Aztecs represent more than just tools for telling time and tracking the
seasons. Behind the technological achievements is a complex symbolical structure--the mythology, the
cosmology, the world view of ancient peoples. For more information on this fascinating aspect of
ancient astronomy, see the Bibliography.
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