Questions tagged [history]

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

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18 views

How much does the sky change in a few thousand years?

The "fixed stars" are not actually fixed, the earth's tilt changes over time etc., but all that happens slowly on human timescales. Imagine a Babylonian astronomer (or astrologist?) ...
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When was it worked out/discovered that our sun can't go supernova?

As the title says, when did we realise with reasonable confidence that our star is not going to be going out in a supernova blaze of glory? I ask because a while ago I read The Songs of Distant Earth ...
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What were the nine planets in 1899?

I'm currently reading Planetary Geology, in which they state When Ceres [...] was discovered in 1899, it was considered as the lost tenth planet. Uranus and Neptune had been discovered, but Pluto ...
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In the 1950's how were radio-astrometric positions with portable dishes so precise they could be assigned to their dim optical counterparts (Quasars)?

In my question Why are quasars so far away that they couldn't be optically resolved in the 1950's? I included the following short paragraph, but then added strikethrough to the second sentence ...
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How poor was our tally of objects that could produce potential extinction-level events back in 1998?

A negative comment below my SciFi SE question Why did the Armageddon (1998) plot require a “rogue comet that jarred loose a Texas-sized asteroid”? says: I don't understand the question. They needed ...
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First Confirmed Visual Observation of Gravitational Lensing

Is it possible to identify the first direct observation of the gravitational lensing? What object was lensed, and where did the energy detected fall on the electromagnetic spectrum?
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Why was the diaeresis removed from Pasiphae?

The Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature notes that the spelling of Jupiter's moon Pasiphae was changed from Pasiphaë in July 2009, i.e. they removed the diaeresis. I've been unable to track down the ...
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When and why was zero right ascension defined to be at the vernal equinox?

When (and why) was zero right ascension defined to be at the vernal equinox? Who established or defined this standard?
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How did Astronomers deduce that the Sun was not a ball of fire?

Its common knowledge that people used to think that the sun is a ball of fire or molten metal, but when did science start to prove otherwise?
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Where do the symbols $\lambda$ and $\beta$ come from for celestial latitude and longitude?

I'm reading Episodes From the Early History of Astronomy, and the author mentions the system of celestial coordinates based on the ecliptic. In this system, the two coordinates are latitude and ...
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When was the atmosphere of Venus first observed?

Nowadays, atmospheres of transiting exoplanets are being characterized. We can measure the absorption of the star's light through the exosphere of exoplanets. The same can be done closer to Earth, ...
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Longest time after an image was taken when a new solar system body was discovered from it?

This answer to If there's nothing special about Pluto, why was it discovered so early? says: In fact, often objects are discovered to be in pictures from long ago, such as Orcus, discovered in 2004,...
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When did people first measure that the Earth was closest to the Sun during January?

When we talk about the reason for the seasons, we usually have to dispel the misconception that seasons are caused by being close and far away in the Earth's elliptical orbit. And usually, we ...
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When was Hubble tension first noticed? When was this term first used?

When was Hubble tension first noticed? When was this term first used? Who used this term for the first time?
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Do Astronomers really never call Lagrangian points “libration points”?

In this answer to Who called the Lagrangian points as “Libration” points and and why was the terminology “Libration” used? I described my feeling that Lagrangian points were also sometimes called &...
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Based on what a month determined as of a certain zodiac constellation?

Since many of the 12 astrological signs (zodiacal constellations) may be visible in any single night, based on what is determined that this month (for 30 days!) is Capricorn, or Aquarius or Pisces etc....
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What are the correct symbols for vernal and autumnal equinox?

What are the correct symbols for vernal and autumnal equinox? I have seen people use both ♈︎ (\Aries) and $\gamma$ (\gamma) to denote vernal equinox. However, I have never seen the symbol for ...
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70-year star in Talmud confusing sailors?

I don't know if this question is a good fit for here - it probably wants the non-existent "History of Astronomic Navigation SE", or maybe just "History SE" - but I'll start here: As described in this ...
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Sun, Moon: Relative Distance from Crescent?

This is more a question about the history of astronomy. It recently occurred to me that you can estimate the ratio of earth-moon and earth-sun distance in the following way: We can look at the ...
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Has radio astronomy ever been done on objects that appear very close to the Moon? Is this avoided?

This answer to Which kinds of astronomical observations most need to avoid the Moon being up? mentions For completeness - radio, mid-infrared and mm-wave observations are unaffected (unless the ...
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Tongue-in-cheek quote on dust extinction

I remember hearing a quote or maybe rather an anecdote about a famous astronomer but I can't recall the exact wording and I also forgot who allegedly said it. Unfortunately, that has thwarted all my ...
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What was the field of view of the Ohio State University Radio Observatory of Wow! signal fame?

This answer to Did comets 266P/Christensen or P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs) cause the Wow! signal? points out that the comets in question were nowhere near where the radio telescope was pointed. Wikipedia says ...
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Who discovered Wolf 359?

I always assumed that Wolf 359's discoverer had been Max Wolf, but I just found out that he simply measured its high proper movement and included it in his star catalog. Since Wolf 359 is a very ...
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What's the first written record of the moon being tidally locked to the earth?

I couldn't find references as to who first noticed (wrote down) that the moon was tidally locked to the Earth. This, to me, doesn't seem obvious from first glance, and looks like something only found ...
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What observational data convinced Stephen Hawking that Cygnus X-1 was indeed a black hole and caused him to break into Kip Thorne's office?

It's generally easier to be certain an object is a star than a black hole. HDE 226868 is one of our site moderators and a blue supergiant star. The latter has a 5.6 day companion that supplied a ...
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Why did the then PhD student Didier Queloz get the Nobel prize?

When Didier Queloz did the work that earned him a Nobel prize (along with Michel Mayor), he was still a PhD student. Jocelyn Bell Burnell stated I believe it would demean Nobel Prizes if they ...
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How was astronomical data meant to be handled on HST precursors?

The first drafts for a large space telescope such as Hubble were made in the 60's, and the idea of a space observatory originated long before that. From Wikipedia: In 1968, NASA developed firm ...
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What is the etymology of the astronomical term metal [duplicate]

It's well known that Astronomers use the term "metal" to describe any element heavier than Helium but could anyone tell me why? What is the history of this particularly strange bit of language?
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How was the Messenger spacecraft used to measure Mercury's orbital precession to such accuracy? Could this have been done using radar?

This comment under an answer to Path of Mercury and general relativity mentions that the Messenger spacecraft was used to measure the precession of Mercury's orbit to such accuracy that the tiny ...
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Who first named the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn? [duplicate]

Who first named the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn? Agnes Clerke's Catholic Encyclopedia article "Astronomy in the Bible" § Planets claims that "Venus and Saturn are the only ...
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Why have brown dwarf classes been dubbed L, T and Y?

The classes used to categorize stars (O, B, A, F, G, K, M) are in a bizarre order for historical reasons. Stars were labeled based on the spectral lines that were visible, then the categories were put ...
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When we say a variable star is “fainting” does it mean something more or different than “dimming” or “fading”?

A comment below the question Does the current “fainting” of Betelgeuse show any spectral trends that differ from it's normal variability? suggests that "dimming" would be a better term, but I have a ...
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What exactly is interplanetary scintillation; what was the Interplanetary Scintillation Array looking for? Did it successfully observe any?

The Interplanetary Scintillation Array is the radioastronomy observatory (i.e. big antenna) where the first pulsar was discovered by then graduate student Jocelyn Bell Burnell through careful and ...
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Has great eyesight been necessary for astronomers?

In a different (but somewhat related) field, some baseball stars have been known to have "baseball eyes." That is, an exceptional ability to visually follow the trajectory of a 90+ mph baseball to a ...
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When did people discover that the Earth is not an ideal sphere, but a little flattened?

When did people discover that the Earth is not an ideal sphere, but a little flattened? And if you know, who was the first person to discover it?
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Syncing time for measuring the parallax of Mars

I read somewhere (I can't remember the website) that when Cassini and Jean Richer measured the parallax of Mars, they used Jupiter's (or maybe Saturn's) moons to sync their time. How was this done?
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“Table of Astronomy's” depiction of the solar system models

This is going to be a follow up question to my question about the "Table of Astronomy" from yesterday, What is this “Table of astronomy” about?. I wanted to take a close look at the three depiction ...
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The size of Copernicus’ and Ptolemy’s corrections

I understand that both Copernicus and Ptolemy needed epicycles, but one might assume that a heliocentric system would need much smaller corrections to account for the non-circular motion of the ...
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What's the origin of Clyde Tombaugh's 9-inch Newtonian telescope?

Astronomer Clyde Tombaugh is shown in a now-famous photograph at the age of 24 with his "homemade" 9-inch Newtonian telescope in this image also shown in Elva R. O'Hara's Clyde W. Tombaugh: ...
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When was it realised that most major moons orbit in the equatorial plane of their parent planets?

Inspired by the discussion of the moons of Uranus providing a clue to the planet's axis of rotation in this question, I'm wondering when it was realised that the major satellites are typically located ...
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Uranus' axis of rotation-when discovered?

Who discovered it, and how was that accomplished. I had assumed it was known before Voyager 2 arrived at the planet since it isn't mentioned in JPL voyager 2 Uranus Approach
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Tycho Brahe's model

Tycho Brahe made a model of universe where earth is at the centre and motionless whereas all other planet orbited around the sun. I am interested to know how he came to this model? If it is because of ...
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Nicolas Copernicus discovery

As I was reading about the heliocentric model, a question came up: How was Nicolaus Copernicus able to figure out that the sun is at the center of the solar system, and that all planets orbit around ...
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Did Edmund Scientific 4¼ inch Newtonians have 90° prisms as secondary mirrors in the 1970's?

I mentioned my old telescope's secondary mirror in this answer (stiffness) but I'm not certain I am remembering correctly. My first telescope was a Edmund Scientific 4¼ inch Newtonian reflector. This ...
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When did the first annular eclipse happen?

A few hundreds of millions of years ago, the moon was closer to the Earth than it is today and hence was of a bigger apparent size. This made every solar eclipse either total or partial. Over the ...
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Sorting out Julian Day, Julian Date, Julian Day number, Julian Day Calendar, and Julian Day Table

In this answer I mention day number which is 1 on the first day of each calendar year (January 1) and increments to 365 or 366 on December 31 of that year. There was an edit proposed, which included ...
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How was the astrometry of the famous 1919 solar eclipse confirmation of General Relativity calibrated and verified?

The new New York Times article The Eclipse That Made Einstein Famous describes several events and discussions on the hundred year anniversary of the the 1919 solar eclipse and verification of the ...
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Reference: First spectrographic observations by Fraunhofer

In several books I find reported that the first scientist to perform spectrographic observations of celestial objects was Fraunhofer with the spectrographs he himself produced. I do not find though a ...
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What is the origin of the term “plane of the spirit level”?

I have heard the term "plane of the spirit level" e.g. the sun's shadows is X degrees to the plane of the spirit level to signify the surface of the earth and I see it is a common term used in ...
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Tycho Brahe Danish Astronomer Religious?

Does anyone know if Tycho Brahe was religious?