Questions tagged [history]

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

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22
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2answers
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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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How to calculate the position of a meteor shower's radiant point based on its associated comet's orbit?

Below this answer to Why are Delta Aquariids “for the southern hemisphere” while the Perseids are “for the north”? I wrote the comment: +1 To make this complete, ...
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Naming of the planets of the solar system

Planets of the solar system have been named with Roman mythology gods names. I have a few questions on my mind concerning that subject for a while: Who decided to name them like this? When did the ...
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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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Metallicity of Celestial Objects: Why “Metal = Non-metal”?

Metallicity of objects refers to the amount of chemical elements present in it other than Hydrogen and Helium. Note: The other elements may or may not be actual ...
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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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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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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 ...
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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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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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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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How did Kepler determine the orbital period of Mars?

As I understand it, Kepler used the orbital period of Mars, along with observational data of Mars' and the sun's position in the sky to derive the orbits of Earth and Mars. (As described, here: https:...
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How did Michelson measure the diameters of jupiter's moons using optical interferometry?

In Betelgeuse: How its Diameter was measured (Chant, C. A., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 15, p.133, Bibliographic Code: 1921JRASC..15..133C) the author says: The paper in ...
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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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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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How did the authors of Surya Siddhanta find the diameters of other planets in the solar system?

The Surya Siddhanta, "a Sanskrit treatise in Indian astronomy from the late 4th-century or early 5th-century CE" is truly a great work. But how was it possible for the writers to find the exact ...
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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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What kind of reddish wood is it exactly that was historically used to line the inside of observatory cupolas (domes), in order to absorb moisture?

I was told that it was "cedar", but that is an unclear term botanically.
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Any record of the Earth passing through the tail (not trail) of a comet?

Discussion below the Space SE question How hard is it to fly through the tail of a comet? Has it been done? has led me to ask if there is any record of the Earth passing through the tail of a comet. ...
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Who invented the blink comparator?

The Wikipedia page for the blink comparator fails to mention who invented it. Many other pages extol the importance of the device, but we cannot find any mention of an inventor. Wikipedia does ...
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1answer
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What comet's tail did Earth pass through before Halley's?

This answer to Any record of the Earth passing through the tail (not trail) of a comet? mentions Earth passed through the tail of Halley's Comet in 1910. It caused a bit of a panic due to claims that ...
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What were they expecting to see when Halley's comet appeared in 1910?

This answer to Any record of the Earth passing through the tail (not trail) of a comet? mentions Earth passed through the tail of Halley's Comet in 1910. It caused a bit of a panic due to claims that ...
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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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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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What exactly is a Hamiltonian telescope? Is this one?

This comment on the current answer to Why is this telescope so short? How hard is it to make such a fast primary? says In this forum topic Borisov appears to call it an f/1.5 Hamiltonian. Wikipedia'...
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How did Kepler “guess” his third law from data?

It is amazing that Kepler determined his three laws by looking at data, without a calculator and using only pen and paper. It is conceivable how he proved his laws described the data after he had ...
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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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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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When was the martian dichotomy first observed?

The North and South hemispheres of Mars are very different one from another. They have different elevations, different crust thickness, different surface ages. This is known as the martian dichotomy. ...
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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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How many constellations in the Zodiac?

The astronomical zodiac contains a bunch of constellations along the ecliptic. Some sources say there are 13 constellations in the astronomical zodiac. Other sources claim there are 12. According ...
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What's the origin and culture of funny astronomical terminology?

I'm not in the industry myself, but as an interested member of the public the terminology of astronomy seems a bit funny. Astronomers who today talk publicly about the interstellar medium say that the ...
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How was the mass of Venus determined?

The mass of Venus seems rather complicated to determine to me: Venus doesn't have any satellites, so you can't just apply Kepler's third law (like you would with Jupiter or Saturn for instance) to ...
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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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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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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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What planet is better than earth to infer solar system configuration?

The mankind had to work some centuries to infer the real configuration of solar system, starting from greeks, Ptolemeus, until Copernicus, Galilei, Kepler, Newton etc. Is there any planet where we ...
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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? ...
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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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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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Are lunar occultations visible to the naked eye?

The Moon occults a lot of stars. But are these events visible to the naked eye? Won't it be blinded out by the crescent even at its thinnest just before sunrise? Did ancient astronomers actually ...
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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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How did Astronomers mostly(?) agree to publish arXiv preprints along with peer-reviewed Journals? Was there pushback?

This excellent, thorough and well-sourced answer to Has a gravitational microlensing event ever been predicted? If so, has it been observed? includes four links to papers on adsabs.harvard.edu pages, ...
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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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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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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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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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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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What is the first recorded reference to the Moon being a satellite of the Earth?

I saw a list recently of the moons of the various planets and the discoverer(s) and date of discovery. Earth's Moon was listed as Unknown. I know you don't 'discover' a huge disc in the sky. But ...
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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 ...