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Astronomy Through the Ages: A Brief History

Celestial bodies have fascinated us beyond our reach for as long we’ve walked the Earth. Eventually, this fascination would lead to incredible discoveries and the conception of a new form of scientific study altogether. Delve into astronomy through the ages to learn about humanity’s need to understand the stars and where it has led us so far.

Ancient Stargazing

The human desire to understand the reaches beyond our atmosphere dates back to ancient Babylonian star charts from the first and second millennia. In fact, ancient Babylon is responsible for the first-ever recognition of the existence of other planets. In similar regard, philosophers of ancient Greece documented Earth’s spherical shape as early as the sixth century BCE. And astronomers of ancient China were the first to record a supernova explosion. These early catalogs demonstrate that humans have always been fascinated with the stars, even in our earliest incarnations.

A 16th-Century Revolution

Before the sixth century, the popular theory was that Earth was the center of our solar system. Moreover, everything in it—including the sun—revolved around the Earth. This became known as the geocentric model for our planet’s orbit.

But this model was problematic. It didn’t match some of the observations astronomers had made about the path of the planets moving backward in their orbits. Luckily, in 1543, a Polish astronomer named Nicolaus Copernicus would end all the dubiety with his heliocentric model of the Earth. Essentially, Copernicus suggested that Earth and everything else in our solar system revolved around the sun. This was the only model that could adequately explain the planets’ paths.

The Expansion of Science and Our Universe

Astronomy through the ages has benefited from detailed cataloging and the advancement of technology. So scientists spent the centuries that followed Copernicus’s discovery perfecting the study of astronomy through improved, cataloged observations of stars, star clusters, and various nebulae. Finally, in 1923, Edwin Hubble fundamentally changed the way scientists viewed the cosmos when he proved that the Andromeda Nebula extended beyond our galaxy. Hubble’s discovery later led other astronomers to guess our universe’s origin. This is how the Big Bang Theory was ultimately conceived.

Later, the discovery of a cosmic noise known as the CMB, or cosmic microwave background—a faint sound leftover from the massive explosion that created our universe—legitimized this theory. America would send its first astronauts to the moon just five years later. From that point onward, astronomy would continue to advance technologically and scientifically.

Astronomy in the Modern Era  

As technology and our understanding of the cosmos expand, astronomy becomes more accurate and advanced. In the modern age, astronomers can trade their naked eyes for behemoth telescopes on the ground and in orbit to catalog celestial bodies. These massive instruments comprise enormous mirrors, allowing astronomers to capture the light of faint and far-away objects. Astronomers can use the data to perform advanced forms of light testing such as differential and absolute photometry to learn more about what they might be looking at. In fact, testing the light magnitudes of these objects has become so advanced that astronomers can see the entire electromagnetic spectrum. And thanks to these advancements in science and tech, astronomers can directly observe phenomena such as black holes, distant exoplanets, and gravitational waves.

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Written by Logan Voss

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