I'm writing a paper on astronomical seeing. Sir Isaac Newton identified both the phenomenon and origin of astronomical seeing in his Opticks. He writes:

If the Theory of making Telescopes could at length be fully brought into Practice, yet there would be certain Bounds beyond which Telescopes could not perform. For the Air through which we look upon the Stars, is in a perpetual Tremor; as may be seen by the tremulous Motion of Shadows cast from high Towers, and by the twinkling of the fix'd Stars.

is anyone aware of any older reference from Gilbert, Galileo, Harvey, Ptolemy, Copernicus or Kepler?

  • $\begingroup$ You may also want to try asking this question in the astronomer's Facebook group. $\endgroup$
    – pela
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 10:46
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ As you probably already knew, Ptolemy's "Optics" computes refraction angles, but treats these as constant. $\endgroup$
    – user21
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ This could be asked at the History of Science and Mathematics SE: hsm.stackexchange.com $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 8:48

1 Answer 1


Robert Hooke's Micrographia from 1664 has a detailed discussion of "seeing"

The table [of contents], which is at the end of the book, explains that pages 230-232 discuss:

that the Air near the Earth is composed of parts of differing density...this property produces the effects of waving and dancing of Bodies; and of the twinkling of the Stars


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