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Questions tagged [history]

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

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Tycho Brahe Danish Astronomer Religious?

Does anyone know if Tycho Brahe was religious?
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1answer
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Are there recommendations to use “Hubble-Lemaître constant” instead of “Hubble constant”?

The IAU recommends renaming the Hubble law as the Hubble-Lemaître law, as discussed at its General Assembly in 2018 (see this press release and the links therein). I have now stumbled upon an ...
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What was the first astronomical measurement which demonstrated that “the Earth is surrounded by vacuum”?

The question Who was the first to realize that the Earth is surrounded by vacuum? was closed because some users felt it was answered by answers to a different question in an different SE site: Who was ...
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2answers
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Has stellar evolution ever been modeled analytically?

I'll still remember the handout my astronomy professor gave us more than several decades ago; Our Friends the Polytropes. We spent a lot of time learning how polytropes, simple analytical power-law ...
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First observation that the Sun and Jupiter (and friends) move around a common barycenter?

Answers to the question How did Kepler determine the orbital period of Mars? describing careful observations centuries ago got me thinking. What was the first analysis of observations that directly ...
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1answer
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First observation that the movement of a planet or asteroid in its orbit was affected by another planet?

Answers to the question How did Kepler determine the orbital period of Mars? describing careful observations centuries ago got me thinking. Question: What was the first analysis of observations that ...
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1answer
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What's the reason that we have a different number of days each month?

It always was interesting for me to understand the answer for the question: What's the reason that we have a different number of days each month? If the month is fixed on the time that the moon ...
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1answer
112 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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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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112 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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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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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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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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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
563 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
139 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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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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1answer
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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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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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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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9answers
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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
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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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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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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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458 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
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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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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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1answer
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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
156 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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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
285 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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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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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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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
443 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
140 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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2answers
170 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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1answer
585 views

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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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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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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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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2answers
474 views

How was the first exoplanet detected?

How was the first exoplanet discovered? What method was used to detect it?
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526 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
76 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
169 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
105 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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229 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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300 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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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 ...