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Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences developed by mankind. In some ways it is as old as human civilization itself. Astronomy was not just an attempt to understand the universe. It was also developed as a way to use the regular patterns of the heavens to tell time and to navigate bodies of water. Nearly every major civilization developed its own system of astronomy. From the Indians and Chinese to the Greeks and Arabs different peoples observed and studied the movements of the stars. Many of the concepts we now take for granted such as the 12 month calendar, almanacs, and constellations are the fruits of this research.
However most observations could only be made through guess work and observation through a long period of time. The real breakthrough came with the Scientific Revolution. From the times of the Greeks up until the 1500s the western world believed that the earth was the center of the universe. This was forever changed by the work Nicholas Copernicus. He was the first western astronomer to theorize a model of that had the earth and the other planets revolving around the sun. Furthermore, it proposed that the sun was not even the center of the universe. This theory when fully accepted revolutionized astronomy.
First it resolved inconsistencies in the calculation of the movements of stars and other celestial bodies. This led to the creation of more accurate almanacs and the discoveries of Johannes Kepler. Kepler using this new model and his own observations was able to produce the laws of planetary motion. Astronomers and astrophysicists use these laws even now.
Other Astronomers like Galileo were able to confirm these discoveries and made even more discoveries such as the invention of the telescope. With such tools astronomers were able to better observe the heavens and see planets and other heavenly bodies in greater detail.
In modern times astronomers aided by advances in technology and physics were able to find even more amazing phenomena in space and actually calculate the distance of star and planets. With the advent of space exploration scientist can now send probes to see planets, comets, and asteroids in greater detail than ever before. They can even use methods such as spectroscopy to determine composition of stars and even determine is a star has planets.
As the science improves Astronomy will play a bigger role in helping us learn more about our universe and its mysteries.
If you enjoyed this article there are others on Universe Today that you will be sure to enjoy. There is a great article on Kepler’s Third Law of Motion. There is also an interesting article about Aphelion.
You can also check out Astronomy Cast. Episode 162 on Edwin Hubble is quite interesting.