Page 1 of 4 Next page
List of subjects |  Sources |  Feedback 
HISTORY OF ASTRONOMY
 
 


Share |




Discover in a free
daily email today's famous
history and birthdays

Enjoy the Famous Daily



Astral themes

The sky is the most mysterious part of our everyday experience. Familiarity may make the amazing events going on at ground level seem almost ordinary. Plants and animals grow and die, rain falls, rivers flow. We feel we understand that.

But the sky is beyond comprehension. Two great objects travel through it, one hot and constant, the other cold and changeable. In the daytime it is moody; there may be blazing sun, or racing clouds, or darkness followed by thunder and lightning. And yet on a clear night the sky is the very opposite - predictable, if you look hard enough, with recognizable groups of stars moving in a slow but reliable manner.
 









Man's interest in the sky is at the heart of three separate stories - astronomy, astrology and the calendar.

Astronomy is the scientific study of sun, moon and stars. Astrology is a pseudo-science interpreting the supposed effect of the heavenly bodies on human existence. In early history the two are closely linked. The sky is the home of many of the gods, who influence life on earth. And the patterns in the sky must surely reflect that influence.
 






Mesopotamia and the Babylonians: from 3000 BC

Astronomical observation begins with the early civilizations of Mesopotamia, where prominent constellations (the patterns formed by stars in the galaxy) are recognized and named soon after 3000 BC. Similarly the sky-watchers of Mesopotamia identify the five wandering stars, which with the sun and moon form the seven original 'planets' (Greek for 'wanderers').

Within Mesopotamia the Babylonians, flourishing from the 18th century BC, are the first great astronomers. The minutes and seconds of modern astronomical measurement derive from their number system. And it is the Babylonians who introduce the useful concept of the zodiac.
 










The Babylonians realize that the zodiac - the sequence of constellations along which the sun and the planets appear to move in their passage through the heavens - can serve as a yardstick of celestial time if divided into recognizable and equal segments. They select twelve constellations to represent these segments, many of them identified by the names of animals. The Greeks later provide the term for the zodiac when they describe it as the 'animal circle' (zodiakos kyklos).

The zodiac links constellations with times of the year; and the constellations have their own links with the gods. So scientific observation of star positions merges with speculation about divine influence. The zodiac, as a concept, is of use to both astronomers and astrologers.
 







  Page 1 of 4 Next page