Questions tagged [history]

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

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5
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1answer
118 views

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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1answer
84 views

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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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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1answer
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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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1answer
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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: Farm Boy ...
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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 ...
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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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1answer
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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?
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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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1answer
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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
542 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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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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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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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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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 telescope's 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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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 ...