History of astronomy

History of Astronomy

In early times people looked to the skies for signs from their gods, others looked for signs or portents which could influence daily activities. It was from these practices and observations that Astrology developed.

Our ancestors used the stars to track the seasons erecting large structures to follow the path of the sun and moon. These structures provided them with a clock or calendar to follow the passing of the seasons. 

People tend to see patterns in the surrounding environment so it is natural for patterns to be observed in the scattered stars.

  • Early star watchers included the peoples from Mesopotamia, who 6,000 years ago used the stars as a calendar telling them when to plant crops. The Greeks obtained considerable knowledge from the Mesopotamian civilisations.
  • Sumeria was the first great Mesopotamian civilisation, arising about 4,000BC, these people developed major irrigation projects, writing and a great deal of skylore.
  • The Babylonians and Assyrians further developed the understanding of the sky. They developed calendars for planting crops and could predict eclipses of the moon.
  • In Egypt the sky reflected some of their gods such as Osiris and Ra and announced the arrival of the different seasons. The bright star Sirius (Alpha Canis Majoris) was particularly important in predicting the flooding of the Nile river. 

Sirius - Sothis or Sepdet as it was called by the ancient Egyptians, the star who's heliacal rising was in early July, 3000 years ago, but due to the wobble of the earth on its axis is now a few weeks later, turned out to be a very reliable predictor of the recurring flood and defined the exact length of the trip of the earth around the sun. From their mythology, the Egyptians saw a connection between Sepdet's appearance and the beginning of the Nile flood. 

The Chinese accurately observed the stars, planets and comets. The Aztecs and Mayans had significant knowledge about the sky and Micronesian civilizations used stars to navigate. The Greeks made great advances in Astronomy, early Greeks used this knowledge for farming practices, they named the constellations after gods and great heroes. During the 6th century they started using geometry and mathematics to develop deeper understanding of the sky. 

Read more about astronomers through time.

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