The Ancient Study of Astronomy
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The Ancient Study of Astronomy

This article was written as a response to the question: How did our ancestors know about the planets before the telescope was invented ?
This article is written in response to a question asked on Knoji about how ancient people's knew about astrology without the aid of a telescope. Basically the ancient peoples relied on the naked eye and their observations of the heavens. The ancient Polynesians had memorized the positioning of over 100 stars to navigate their ocean voyages. The Egyptians used the sun and constellations to build the great pyramids.

Today we would not think about studying astronomy without the telescope, but the ancients did it all the time.  They knew about most of the planets in our solar system save the last three; Pluto, Uranus, and Neptune (ascending order).

The Akkadians (ancient Babylonian people) were known as the creators of the field of astrology and astronomy.  These early records date back to 2500 B.C. Latter the Babylonian astronomers who were also priests used the ancient Akkadians records to chart the movement of the sun, the stars, and moon.

The Egyptians used what they could see in the heavens and the physical changes on earth. They charted the movement of the sun and the flooding of Nile River to figure out the length of a year. The Egyptians are also accredited with having furnished the ancient world with the first calendar.  They used this calendar to know when to crop and harvest according to the water levels of the Nile River.  The calendar wasn’t based on the moon found in older calendars; it was based on the positioning of the sun and the stars which they could see with their naked eye. 

The moon calendars were based on a premise of seven days a week and 12 months a year reflecting the 12 cycles of the moon which occurs annually.

The Egyptians were skilled at building pyramids and they did so using the sun and its constellation as guidance with remarkable accuracy. The stars also had special spiritual significance for them.

The Chinese have been charting the skies for thousands of years. They hold the record for the longest study of astronomical studies. Over 4000 years ago, they charted the first solar eclipse.  In 500 B.C. they presented the world with the first planetary grouping. One hundred years later in 400 B.C. they published the first book on comets called the Book of Silk.

The Greeks were responsible for the geocentric model of the universe.  This means that the earth is the center of the universe which they got from the Aristotle.  However, Aristarchus of Samos purported the heliocentric (sun center) theory in 310-230 B.C.  We the go back to the geocentric model almost two hundred years later with the writing of Ptolemy circa 140 A.D.

The Polynesians were ocean navigators and they used the stars for guidance when sailing at night over 2000 years ago.  During the day they were guided by the sun of course.  They would create mythologies such as Pleiades to guide them and these mythologies are foundations for the culture.  They were very skilled at navigation and memorized hundreds of stars and their locations to create longitudinal and latitudinal navigation routs.  They also used the brightness and color of the stars and the time of the year as markers for navigation.

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Comments (7)

Interesting article. I recommended and tweeted.

Thanks for a detailed reply. This helps. :)

I recommended. 

Ranked #20 in Astronomy

Thanks James and Vijay

Most interesting.

Ranked #20 in Astronomy

thanks Jerry

Interesting and well-presented Carol.

Ranked #20 in Astronomy

thanks Ron

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