By Joseph Peters
Started in 2010 ended in 2019
- Megaliths & Mounds
- Nicolaus Copernicus
- Johnnes Kepler
- Galileo Galilei
- Isaac Newton
- Albert Einstein
- Modern Astronomy
- Sun / Summary
Chapter I – Prologue
Today, astronomy is known as the study of objects and matter outside the Earth’s atmosphere and of their physical and chemical properties. It is one of the oldest sciences, if not the first. From the beginning of time, all living things have been affected by what goes on in the sky, and since humans have been on the planet, the sky, especially the night sky, has been the most awesome and most mysterious aspect of our lives, as well as the most overwhelming. The earliest human, would perhaps stand up on a rock, in the quiet of a clear night and stare up at the panorama of the sky and probably feel so very small, swimming amongst the stars. Dwarfed by the seemingly, endless and uncountable twinkles of light, whilst standing agape with eyes open wide and bottom lip hanging open, drooling upon oneself. Or we’d sit around our campfire and tell stories about the night skies and attempt to decipher them. Shooting stars would be talked about for days, while we may have danced with the Aureole-Aurora Borealis.
Besides the vastness of the sky, there were always the Sun and the Moon as well. With both, so much larger and brighter than anything else that dwelled up in space. The Moon could be stared at for hours, while the Sun could not, though it was able to touch all living things with its heat. The Sun represented life, the Moon, no doubt reflection. It never gets boring for some reason when we stare up into the sky. We sense there is much going on, but to us it seems ever so slowly, while in reality it’s all happening very quickly.
From very early on, humans have sensed, felt, and seen the effects that the Sun and Moon seem to have on all aspects of life and nature, from the oceans to flora and fauna. We’ve probably always been extremely dedicated observers of the sky. But the majority of humankind’s concerns are what is going on in their individual life here on the Earth, and not so much what was happening on a daily basis in the heavens. Indeed the enormity of the sky, to most, had to have been very scary on some levels. The eclipses of the Sun and Moon themselves must have been both awe-inspiring to an early human’s spirit, and yet at the same time very traumatic. A lunar eclipse turns the Moon red as it passes in the Earth’s shadow, a partial lunar eclipse creates the image that part of the Moon is covered by the Sun, and the most fearful to humans was no doubt during a total solar eclipse, when the Moon completely blocks out the Sun.
There would come to be individuals who spent enough time staring up at the stars, watching the Sun and Moon on a regular basis, to notice that there was a lot of movement going on up there, with much of the movements happening regularly, like the time between full moons and the day and night. From very early on, watching the sky would become the responsibility of certain dedicated and patient individuals, sunshine supermen, if you will, with their observations becoming our measurement and concept, of time, and continuing wonder.
Time is forever moving forward, but we can only measure it in relation to other things that have a regular pattern, like the rising sun or swing of a pendulum. The earliest measurement of time would be the day. Which was easily calculated by everyone, the Sun rose and moved across the sky then disappeared, to be replaced by the Moon which would also move across the sky and eventually disappear. The earliest astronomers had no idea that, in reality the Earth was moving and not the Sun. Our next measurement of time was the month. The time it takes for one full Moon to become another full Moon, about 29 days.
The Babylonians would be the first to break up a day into twenty-four hours, with sixty minutes per hour. All numbers which are easily divisible by two, three, and four. The first clocks were simple sundials, using shadow, then came hourglasses of sand, with the first pendulum clock not appearing until the 17th century.
Besides measuring time, humans would eventually relate the sky’s actions into the need to understand their place and purpose in the universe as well. This need for a universal meaning to our lives does not need to be religious, for anyone should be able to sense and see that a cosmic perspective does give meaning to our lives. That somehow we are connected, and not separated like many would come to believe.
To study the sky, is to seek knowledge, for astronomy is not just a science about the physicality of the planet Earths place in the universe. It is also to seek an understanding of its beginnings, it’s future, and it’s time. It also has a human perspective, the study for truth, and from very early on astronomy would become intertwined with religion, from which would evolve cosmology, which can be considered as the study of the universe as a whole.
Historically, optical astronomy, also called visible light astronomy, is the oldest form of astronomy. What was observed in the sky was at first memorized and then eventually drawn by hand, by the individuals who patiently and diligently each night stood atop a monument and stared up into the night sky, recording in pictures or script of their methodical observations, for generation after generation. Astronomical artefacts have been found from much earlier periods than even our first civilizations. Early cultures, as far back as the Ethiopians, 17,000 years ago, identified celestial objects with gods and spirits. They related these objects, and their movements, to phenomena such as rain, drought, seasons, and tides. It is generally believed that the first astronomers were priests and shamans, and that their understanding of the heavens was seen as divine, hence astronomy’s ancient connection to what is now called astrology. At first these early astronomer-priests were involved with not only a primitive form of speculative meteorology, but also the attempt to read divine will. This was expressed everywhere and from all things, such as how the smoke rises from a fire, cloud-formations, the entrails of an animal, or the flight patterns of birds. These priests were also the first to develop the process by which this divine will, could be appeased, and that was through sacrifice. These early astronomer-priests were fed and sustained by the people, so that they could study the sky continuously, and would become the privileged few in the earliest civilizations. Besides creating ceremonies, feasts, timekeeping and rituals, they also were in charge of expulsion of all demons, diseases, and sins and thus, they took care of their community’s spiritual well being.
Before tools such as telescopes were invented in the 17th century, early study of the stars had to be conducted from the only vantage points available, namely tall buildings and high ground using the bare eye and then later, the armillary sphere, would become the prime instrument of all astronomers in determining celestial positions. Several of the planets have been known since prehistoric times, with the ancients aware of seven of them, the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, mostly because these bodies are very bright, and they wander among the fixed stars, through the constellations. These were known to the Greeks as plane‑te‑s or “wanderers.”
In ancient times the sky was probably more respected than it is today, being so all consuming. Today many people go days without ever looking up. But long ago, the sky would have been the mother of all distractions. The Supreme Being would have been the Sun, for it represented the cycles of life, the staples of resurrection: life during the day, death when it disappeared and a rebirth the next morning.
The constellation Orion would have been next in importance. There were many names and interpretations of the stars of this constellation, including the Hunter, named by the Greeks. Though Orion was also known as “thief thrown to the buzzards,” in South America. The Pawnee of North America called the constellation, “the Deer,” and the Egyptians named it Osiris. Orion is found on the celestial equator and is the largest, most conspicuous and recognizable constellation worldwide.
The sky is overpoweringly magnificent, but as mentioned earlier, it brought out fear as well, and still does. This fear would be used by the early astronomer priests to their advantage, for only they were believed to be able to know what the gods expected from the people. Night after night they’d watch the night sky, trying to interpret what the gods were saying by their movements in the stars and planets, and at the same time allowing what they would find, to control nearly every aspect of the people’s lives, and to keep themselves fed, by sowing and harvesting at the right times. Unfortunately, their work, and themselves, were also often easily influenced by whoever was in power.
Old or even ancient astronomy is not to be confused with astrology, the belief system which claims that human affairs are correlated with the positions of celestial objects. Although the two fields share a common origin and a part of their methods, by using tables showing positions of the heavens, they are distinct. In early times, astronomy only comprised the observation and predictions of the motions of objects visible to the naked eye.
As civilizations developed, most notably in Mesopotamia, Greece, Egypt, Persia, Central America, India, China, and the Islamic world, astronomical observatories were assembled, and ideas on the nature of the universe began to be explored. Most of early astronomy actually consisted of mapping the positions of the stars and planets, a science now referred to as, astrometry. From these observations, early ideas about the motions of the planets were formed, and the nature of the Sun, Moon, and the Earth in the universe were explored philosophically. The Earth was believed to be the center of the universe with the Sun, the Moon and the stars rotating around it. This is known as the geocentric model of the universe. In contrast to ancient Greek philosophers who believed that the universe had an infinite past with no beginning, while medieval philosophers and theologians developed the concept of the universe having a finite past with a beginning. This view was inspired by the creation myth shared by the three Abraham based religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
While Islam produced some incredible astronomers, the bibles of Judaism and Christianity, contain only a few statements as to the position of the Earth, the universe and the nature of planets and stars. With Venus and Saturn being the only planets expressly mentioned in the Old Testament. The closest interpretations of biblical “stars” are, Kimah, related to the Pleiades; the Kesil, related to Orion; Ayish, to Hyades; Mezarim – the Bears (Great and Little); Mazzaroth – Vens (Lucifer and Hesperus); Hadre, the “Chamber of the South”, and Canopus, the Southern Cross and Centauri.
Over five thousand years ago, many individuals, in many different parts of the world, had gained much firsthand experience and knowledge about Mother Nature, and the duality she provided of destruction and growth. They were achieving a better understanding of the natural world by studying the stars and sky. Cultures around the globe, nearly all at the same time, became fixated on being able to forecast and keep time, to mark seasonal changes for the growing and harvesting of crops. And the desire grew to foretell, and to forestall, if possible, future events by sacrifice and ritual.
Much of ancient astronomy was all about timekeeping, and soon most all of the early sky watchers would develop calendars, with the first ones marking the seasons and rituals. All calendars of the world have usually been set by the Sun and Moon – measuring the day, month and year – and were very important to agriculture in which the harvest depended on planting at the correct time of year. The most common modern calendar is based on the Roman calendar, which divided the year into twelve months of alternating thirty and thirty‑one days apiece. In 46 BC the Roman emperor Julius Caesar instigated calendar reform and adopted a calendar based upon the 365 1/4 day year length, originally proposed by the 4th century BC, Greek astronomer Callippus. But as you shall see, there have been many calendars and much pondering about the celestial realm.
This essay hopes to record and share with you the incredible achievements attained by the amazingly disciplined sunshine supermen and gazers of the stars, up to the 17th century and the invention of the telescope, while before that time so much had already been achieved by simply using the human eyeball and mathematics. And afterwards, right up to the present day when the technologies of optics and photography would begin to share the stargazing.
I hope I am not diminishing the explorations of space that have been reached, or the nearly divine work that modern astronomers have achieved, and so have also included chapters on Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein, because, though they were not all astronomers, through their combined genius, they would develop and put forth definitions and theories, to exactly what the sunshine supermen of past and present were and are, looking at. And to what they were looking for. So lie back upon a cool patch of grass and stare up at the night sky, or simply strap in and enjoy the ride.
Will be releasing chapters weekly. Peace Out for now.