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Thread: Astronomy History

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    Astronomy History

    The history of astronomy should be recognized as very important and how it has influenced world culture for thousands of years should be taught. I've seen astronomy textbooks from middle school, high school, and college that don't cover astronomy history/astronomers from history very well. CosmoQuest.org should consider adding a History of Astronomy Forum. Here's just one possible example from it...

    The Mesopotamians were the first to keep astronomical records. They combined astrology and astronomy. Their tall observation towers - ziggurats - became temples because of their intellectual leaders being able to 'magically' predict the lunar cycle, 4 seasons and eventually the motions of the five 'wandering stars' (Greek: planets) and eclipses.

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    I did some quick looking around, but didn't find any support for your comment that ziggurats were observation platforms. Do you have some references I could look at?

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    grapes,

    I'm not at home right now to reference some books, but even Wikipedia should confirm that the Mesopotamians were the first to keep astronomical records. You knew that, right? So where do you think they were doing there observations from? The Mesopotamians didn't readily have stone to build with like the Egyptians, so they made mud bricks which didn't last through the centuries like the first pyramid: Djoser's Step-Pyramid at Saccura. This 6-story/7-level structure was influenced by the Mesopotamians and its easy to imagine the ancient Egyptian astrologer/astronomers atop it making their observations of the heavens.

    This question of whether ziggurats were also observation towers is in itself a proof of how poor Astronomy History is. Don't you agree that CosmoQuest.org should start a new forum on this to help promote the factual history of astronomy and astronomers?


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    Last edited by Brad Watson; 2014-Sep-03 at 01:18 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brad Watson View Post
    I'm not at home right now to reference some books, but even Wikipedia should confirm that the Mesopotamians were the first to keep astronomical records.
    The first in the Western world. I believe Chinese records are older.

    But you have provided no evidence that ziggurats were used for astronomical purposes. I have never come across this idea (despite studying history of science). I don't think this sort of guesswork is a compelling reason for a specialised history of science forum.

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    Strange,

    Wrong. The Mesopotamians were the first to keep astronomical records. Please research that to confirm it and I will, too.

    As I said before, I AM not currently at home and I can't reference the Astronomy college textbook (or other books in my library) at the present time. I did a quick search to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Step_pyramid but I found no references there. I'll keep looking.

    I didn't mean to imply that Astronomy History is important only because of the Mesopotamians and their ziggurats. Pythagoras discovered that "Everything is number" and applied math to the objects in the heavens. (Was he the first?) Ptolemy and the long-established 7 Classical Planets is another good reason to study the history of astronomy as is Copernicus and Kepler. Galileo turning the telescope towards the heavens was a HUGE paradigm-shift in history! Einstein's theories, Hubble's discoveries, etc.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_planets
    Last edited by Brad Watson; 2014-Sep-03 at 01:49 PM.

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    I just read this for the 1st time... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_astronomy

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brad Watson View Post
    I didn't mean to imply that Astronomy History is important only because of the Mesopotamians and their ziggurats.
    No, but any discussion of history, as with science, needs to be evidence based. Thinking it is "obvious" that ziggurats were used from astronomy is insufficiently rigorous.

    Quote Originally Posted by Brad Watson View Post
    I just read this for the 1st time... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_astronomy
    OK. I thought Chinese astronomy was older than that.

    But, get back on topic, the history of various aspects of science gets discussed occasionally in the appropriate forums. There doesn't seem to be enough of these threads to require a new forum.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    No, but any discussion of history, as with science, needs to be evidence based.
    Of course. Why state the obvious?

    Thinking it is "obvious" that ziggurats were used from astronomy is insufficiently rigorous.
    Obviously. How many times do I have to tell you that I AM not at home and can't access my books?

    OK. I thought Chinese astronomy was older than that.
    It's good to admit one's mistakes.

    But, get back on topic
    I was never OFF-TOPIC.

    There doesn't seem to be enough of these threads to require a new forum.
    A good educator recognizes what needs to be taught regardless of its apparent popularity. Agreed?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brad Watson View Post
    This question of whether ziggurats were also observation towers is in itself a proof of how poor Astronomy History is. Don't you agree that CosmoQuest.org should start a new forum on this to help promote the factual history of astronomy and astronomers?
    This forum, Astronomy Education, would seem to be adequate for that. We've actually got a lot of pressure to decrease the number of subforums.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brad Watson View Post
    This question of whether ziggurats were also observation towers is in itself a proof of how poor Astronomy History is. Don't you agree that CosmoQuest.org should start a new forum on this to help promote the factual history of astronomy and astronomers?
    When I read a remark like this I don't know whether to laugh or cry. That questions about the ziggurats is in my opinion much ado about a trifle. No special facility such as a ziggurat is needed to observe the cycles of the Sun, Moon and planets. By observing the varying length of the noontime shadow of a pole in your back yard, you can track the astronomical seasons and relate them to the weather for agricultural purposes. A suitably motivated civilization can plot the positions of the Moon and the planets on a star chart, and by keeping good records for several centuries they can learn to forecast lunar eclipses and the recurring retrograde loops of the planets. Once again, this can be done from any location with a view of the sky. The Babylonians did just that, without the benefit of precision instruments, and they recorded their findings on clay tablets that remain legible to this day and give us priceless records of their skill and resolve. The British authors Stephen Toulmin and June Goodfield, in their book The Fabric of the Heavens, explained how they did it, in an early chapter of a good overview of the history of astronomy and physics from antiquity through the mid-20th century. The last time I looked, that book could be found at Amazon.com.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    OK. I thought Chinese astronomy was older than that.
    It is, according to IDP

    Quote Originally Posted by IDP
    Like many ancient societies, China based its calendar upon the phases of the moon but then added extra months. This was because a solar year is not evenly divisible by an exact number of lunar months – there are about 12.37 lunar months during a solar seasonal year – so without the extra months the seasons would drift each year. This is called a luni-solar calendar. The Chinese calendar therefore had a thirteen-month year every two or three years. In May 2005, some relics of this early astronomical activity were uncovered with the discovery of the oldest astronomical observatory known in China today. This structure is located in the Shanxi 山西 province of China and dates from the Longshan 龙山 period (2300–1900 BC). This vast carved platform, measuring sixty metres in diameter, was used to locate the rising of the sun at the different periods of the year.
    I thought it rather strange for a culture of over 5000 years old, only to have astronomy since 600 BC.
    However, it can well be that no early records survived because they tended to write on silk and wood, e.g. with the warring going on to unite the country in 500-400 BC (or there abouts) lots can have been lost.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hornblower View Post
    When I read a remark like this I don't know whether to laugh or cry. That questions about the ziggurats is in my opinion much ado about a trifle. No special facility such as a ziggurat is needed to observe the cycles of the Sun, Moon and planets. By observing the varying length of the noontime shadow of a pole in your back yard, you can track the astronomical seasons and relate them to the weather for agricultural purposes. A suitably motivated civilization can plot the positions of the Moon and the planets on a star chart, and by keeping good records for several centuries they can learn to forecast lunar eclipses and the recurring retrograde loops of the planets. Once again, this can be done from any location with a view of the sky. The Babylonians did just that, without the benefit of precision instruments, and they recorded their findings on clay tablets that remain legible to this day and give us priceless records of their skill and resolve. The British authors Stephen Toulmin and June Goodfield, in their book The Fabric of the Heavens, explained how they did it, in an early chapter of a good overview of the history of astronomy and physics from antiquity through the mid-20th century. The last time I looked, that book could be found at Amazon.com.
    My bold. In hindsight I think that sentence was unnecessarily harsh, for which I apologize sincerely.

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