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Questions tagged [history]

Questions regarding the history of astronomy, including discoveries and scientists.

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What's the reason that we have different quantities of days each month?

It always was interesting for me to understand the answer for the question: What's the reason that we have different quantities of days each month? If the month is fixed on the time that the moon ...
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1answer
71 views

How does making a refracting telescope very long reduce the chromatic aberration of an uncorrected lens?

Below are two cropped views of "Johannes Hevelius's 8 inch telescope with an open work wood and wire "tube" that had a focal length of 150 feet to limit chromatic aberration." from Harvard University, ...
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86 views

Scientifically important discoveries with the help of amateurs

I am looking for examples where amateur astronomers in these days contributed sigificantly to important scientifically discoveries. I am aware of one example: Victor Buso from Argentina was lucky ...
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96 views

How did Johannes Hevelius' long telescope work? Why all the round holes?

The drawing below, found in Wikimedia and at lib.harvard.edu is of a very long tubed aerial telescope. I believe it is taken from his 1673 work Machinae coelestis. I've always wondered about the ...
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1answer
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From CMB anisotropy data observed in 1992, did astronomers figure out that the universe should be accelerating before its discovery in 1998?

CMB anisotropy was measured in 1992. I assume that astronomers, then, like now, would have been able to deduce the cosmological constant and things like that from the CMB anisotropy data. Then, from ...
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148 views

What are Kepler's laws (as he wrote them)?

There are of course many, many sources that quote Kepler's laws of planetary motion. This is preventing me from finding out what I really want to know: which is - what are Kepler's laws as he wrote ...
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1answer
48 views

How was calculating the celestial latitude using an astrolable of any help to sailors?

I'm sorry if this sounds like a silly question but I don't understand how measuring the location of a star would help in sea navigation.
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5answers
157 views

Do astronomers have an established, systematic way for saying what does or doesn't orbit what? (e.g. “Mars orbits Earth”)

A recent comment An object far enough away can certainly orbit the Moon and the Earth (and the Sun) -- Mars, for instance does this. An object in the Earth-Moon L2 is also orbiting both the Earth ...
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3answers
543 views

Has anyone ever tried to make a simple telescope using ice?

I grew up with long cold winters, and saw a lot of remarkably transparent ice formed by refreezing meltwater, both in puddles and ponds, and in large icicles. I'd always thought about making optical ...
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2answers
123 views

What are the RAs of the boundaries between traditional zodiacal signs?

I'm trying to figure out at what right ascension (RA) — not celestial longitude — the sun enters the various traditional (Western) astrological signs of the Zodiac; but I can't figure out how to ...
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2answers
586 views

Which telescopes model is being shown to Albert Einstein in this file footage? What event might this be?

In the Economist video Why does time pass? there is some file footage of Albert Einstein attending some event where a model of a large telescope is on display, and being described to Prof. Einstein. ...
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The systematic review of past observations in the hope of finding things that may have been missed

I seem to remember a TV science programme which re-examined the slides that led to the discovery of Pluto and then took a fresh look at earlier slides taken of the space which Pluto was passing ...
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1answer
72 views

When did the concept of “celestial sphere” fall?

I'm just done reading The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown, and it provided a good timeline of establishing heliocentrism, broad acceptation of Kepler's system, and the initial (failed) Galileo's experiment ...
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90 views

Which astronomer set his beard on fire because he left the cap off his telescopes finder?

There is a famous story of an experienced astronomer setting his beard on fire because he left the cap off his telescopes finder. I know it's said to be true of Galileo, but I thing it's relatively ...
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8answers
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Simple experimental evidence that Earth revolves around Sun

What are the simplest experiments or calculations that give evidence that the earth revolves around the sun? Can you please explain them and reference the history? Many simple explanations such as ...
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2answers
3k views

We know what a nova is, but how?

I work with astrophysicists and require some basic knowledge of many astronomical sources, however research priorities often demand that most of human knowledge on a subject be taken for granted. I ...
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1answer
374 views

How did the authors of Surya Siddhanta find the diameters of other planets in the solar system?

This book is truly great. But how was it possible for the writers to find the exact values of the diameters of different planets and the distance between the sun and the earth? Also, are there any ...
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1answer
64 views

Mercury mapping attempts before Mariner 10?

Mercury's surface was not mapped up-close until Mariner 10 passed by in 1974. This was followed by MESSENGER in 2008. I have seen several attempts of mapping Mars that came before space exploration, ...
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319 views

How was the time of equinox measured in ancient times?

In the book "The Crime of Claudius Ptolemy" by Robert Newton, on page 81, it reads as follows: When we measure the time of a solstice, we measure the time when the meridian elevation angle of the ...
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1answer
3k views

How did Ole Christensen Romer measure the speed of light?

How did Ole Christensen Rømer, who in 1676, shortly after Galileo's death, was said to have measured the speed of light as 220,000 km/s by timing the orbits of Io around Jupiter? My only guess is ...
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2answers
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Could the dinosaurs have seen the asteroid that killed them?

Wikipedia says the Chicxulub impactor is thought to have been a 10-15 km diameter object. Would it have been visible to a (human*) naked eye before impact? And if so, would it have appeared like a ...
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55 views

Is the American Astronomical Society 230 years old?

The BBC News item Light shed on mystery space radio pulses is interesting enough in its own right. But I noticed that it is reporting on news from the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical ...
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How does Ptolemy prove in the following excerpt that the Earth could not be outside of the axis spanning between the poles of the celestial sphere

I have trouble interpreting the following excerpt: “Against the first of these three positions militate the following arguments. If we imagined [the earth] removed towards the zenith or the nadir ...
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1answer
140 views

How did Ptolemy prove in the following excerpt that the Earth is not cylindrical?

I have trouble interpreting the following excerpt: “Nor could it [the Earth] be cylindrical, with the curved surface in the east-west direction, and the flat sides towards the poles of the ...
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71 views

What is a “limited array”?

I'm reading about the history and making of ESO's Very Large Telescope and I've found this article that says the scientific community had a choice between three suggestions: a one-piece 16m-telescope, ...
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1answer
260 views

When did astronomy first discover that the stars are bigger than the moon?

We take it for granted these days that the stars are unimaginably bigger than the planets and the moons. But when you look at the sky, it does not appear this way. The moon looks bigger and brighter ...
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1answer
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What kind of reddish wood is it exactly that was historically used to line the inside of observatory copulas, in order to absorb moisture?

I was told that it was "cedar", but that is an unclear term botanically.
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185 views

What is the oldest known prediction of constellation positions?

Would someone know of a good reference on the oldest known predictions of constellation positions? How far ahead could accurate positions be predicted? For example, could current constellation ...
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0answers
63 views

Why weren't Lunar meteorites identified until 1982?

According to Wikipedia the first meteorite of Lunar origin wasn't identified until 1982. Today 306 Lunar meteorites have been identified. Why weren't they identified as Lunar already a decade earlier,...
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3answers
421 views

If you lived on the far side of the Moon, how could you infer the existence of Earth?

Suppose that you deposit an astronomer, armed with our current knowledge of orbital mechanics, on a dome on the far side of the Moon, so that the Earth is perpetually hidden from them. (And, of ...
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1answer
136 views

Why would there be no day/night cycle even though the firmament would still be rotating, according to Copernicus

In chapter 6 of "The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres" where Copernicus maintains that the heavens are immense compared to the size of the Earth, the Edward Rosen translation of the book states ...
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106 views

How did we first determine the Earth's departure from sphericity?

I'm quite interested to know the history of the study of the Earth's departure from spherical symmetry. What were the first methods used to model the non-spherical geometry of the Earth? For example, ...
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What was the “brilliant new star in Aquila” on June 8, 1918, just after the solar eclipse?

This great answer about the US Naval Observatory's $3,500 expedition to Baker City Oregon to observe the June 8, 1918 total solar eclipse links to the January 1919 Popular Astronomy article about the ...
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3answers
4k views

What exactly is the “paradox” in Olber's Paradox?

To the extent of my understanding, Olber’s paradox states that if the universe was static and homogeneous, we should see a star at every point in the night sky and therefore the night sky should be ...
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88 views

What is Copernicus referring to when he states that “circles have poles different [from the earth's]”

In chapter 4 of "The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres" where Copernicus maintains that the objects in our solar system have circular orbits or orbits compounded of several circles, the Edward Rosen ...
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0answers
87 views

Was the Crab Nebula to the southeast of Zeta Tauri 1,000 years ago?

I've been reading about SN 1054 and how most professional investigators believe that it is the Crab Nebula today. But the wiki article has this to say: The location of the guest star as "to the ...
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406 views

How was the first exoplanet detected?

How was the first exoplanet discovered? What method was used to detect it?
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414 views

How did the Ancients understand the ecliptic using the Ptolemaic system

I studied the Farnese Atlas and I wonder how did the Ancients discover the ecliptic, the equator, etc. with the Ptolemaic system namely without knowing that the Earth rotates on itself, especially for ...
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1answer
69 views

How are the elevations of the poles proportionate to distances of earth that have been traversed according to Copernicus

In chapter 2 of "The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres" where Copernicus maintains that the Earth is spherical, the Edward Rosen translation of the book states that the elevations of the poles ...
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2answers
168 views

Celestial navigation from scratch

Is it possible to establish one's longitude and latitude by observing the stars? Can you use observations of the stars to find the relative distance between two locations, which would be useful in map-...
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2answers
96 views

When were the horizontal and equatorial celestial coordinate systems invented?

When were the Alt-az system and the RA-dec system first used?
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196 views

Why the continued obsession in measuring the year as a multiple of days?

Pick a any notion of year and any type of day measurement. Outside of history and the common cycle of day an night, why are these viewed as integrally or even fractionally commensurate? Why all the ...
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295 views

Was there ever a hypothesis about a planet called Biga?

I just re-read a popular astronomy book that was published when I was a child, about 1973. It starts with an interview to Harold C. Urey where the interviewer asks about a hypothetical planet in our ...
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212 views

Exoplanet hunters ignored or ridiculed in the 1980s or 1990s?

I recently came across this youtube video, in which a few people are singing about the history of exoplanet discovery. It suggests that, in the 1990s, exoplanet hunters were largely ignored or ...
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721 views

Which star did Uranus occult in 1977 when the planet's rings were discovered?

In 1977, Uranus occulted a star, and the starlight flickered 40 minutes before and after the actual occultation, revealing Uranus' rings.This is common knowledge to astronomers, but what I can't find ...
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1answer
149 views

Did Earth “tilt” seasonally before it was accepted that the world was not flat?

Before it was widely accepted that the Earth was round, how did astronomers describe the yearly movement of the sun to south in the Northern Winter that produced the seasons? Did the Earth wobble or ...
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618 views

Why is the symbol of Vernal Equinox ♈?

Since the direction of Vernal Equinox lies in the Pisces constellation, why is its symbol Aries? Shouldn't it be ♓ ? Is this a historical anachronism, only invalidated by axial precession of Earth?
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365 views

Calculating orbits using observational data

How did astronomers in the 18th and 19th centuries used to calculate a comet's or planet's orbit using observational data, given that this data is relative to a non static reference point (i.e. the ...
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297 views

Numbers 80 to 85 in Ancient Astronomy

Do any numbers in between 80 and 85 (or thereabouts) hold any relatively important or relatively obvious meaning in ancient astronomy ? A few clarifications: By ancient I mean related to human ...
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554 views

How many judges sat on Galileo's trial over heliocentrism and who were they exactly?

I saw several chronologies of the trial online but most of them only mention the name of Urban 8 as involved in the actual court proceedings. How many judges were involved and who were they exactly? ...