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What is Astronomy? Definition, history, and Modern scientific revolution

Astronomy means the study of everything in the universe beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. It includes the objects that we can see with our bare eyes, like the sun, the Moon, other stars, and planets. And also contains the objects that we can see with the help of telescopes and other instruments like faraway galaxies and tiny particles. It also includes questions about things we can’t see, like dark energy and dark matter. The origin of this word is the Greek language which means the laws of the stars’. Math, chemistry, and physics are used to explain their origins and evolution. Astronomy is the study of everything that originates beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

History and Modern Scientific Revolution of Astronomy

If we talk about the oldest natural sciences, then Astronomy is one of them. Old civilizations in recorded history made systematic observations of the night sky. Babylonians, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese, Maya, and many ancient Indigenous peoples of Americans were part of that. They used this term to make calendars and navigation.

Modern and professional Astronomy is split into two branches, observational and theoretical. Observational and theoretical Astronomy complement each other. Observational astronomy is absorbed in obtaining data from the observation of astronomical objects. This collected data is then examined using basic principles of physics. Theoretical astronomy is concerned with the development of computer or investigative models to describe astronomical objects and phenomena. It pursues to explain the observational results, and observations are used to confirm theoretical results.

People often mix these two terms astronomy and astrology. Astronomy is the study of the whole universe, and astrology claims that human affairs are correlated with celestial objects (stars). But these two terms are not entirely separate because they share the exact origin.


Astronomy’s history is divided into three ages.

Ancient times

Middle ages

Modern scientific revolution

Now here we are going to elaborate on these ages.

Ancient Times:

Back in ancient times, astronomy only consisted of observing and predicting the motions of the objects visible to the naked human eye. In that era, early cultures assembled massive artifacts that possibly had some astronomical purpose. These observations could be employed to determine the seasons and length of the year. It was before the invention of the telescope and other modern gadgets related to astronomy.

The whole study of the stars and planets was derived from the observations of the naked eye. With the development of the civilizations, specifically Greece, Persia, Mesopotamia, India, China, Egypt, and Central America, their ideas began to assemble. In its early times, astronomy consisted of mapping the position of stars and planets.

According to that age of astronomy, the Earth was considered the center of the universe, and the sun, the Moon, and the other planets were assumed to revolve around it. This was known as the geocentric model of the universe, or the Ptolemaic system, named after Ptolemy. Then the Babylonians started to use math and science in astronomy. It was a breakthrough in the history of astronomy. Babylonians also discovered the lunar eclipses persisted in a repeating cycle known as a ‘saros.’ Later other civilizations adopted the Babylonian’s methods.

In the 3rd century BC, ‘Aristarchus of Samos’ estimated the size and distance of the Sun and Moon. He also proposed the solar system model, in which he showed that all the stars, planets, and Earth rotate around the sun, now called the ‘heliocentric model.’ Many important developments accrued in that era until the ‘Astronomical clocks’ appeared in Europe in the 14th century.

Middle Ages:

Richard of Wallingford (1292-1336) made significant contributions to astronomy and horology just like many other astronomers belonged to medieval European house. He invented the very first astronomical clock ‘the Rectangulus.’ It was designed to measure the angles between planets and other astronomical bodies and an equatorial called ‘the Albion,’ which could be used for astronomical calculations such as lunar, solar, and planetary longitudes and could predict eclipses.

As Europe was the castle of the astronomers in the medieval period, many worked for astronomy and invented many beneficial devices to study the universe. Nicole Oresme (1320-1382) and Jean Buridan (1300-1361) first discussed the evidence for the rotation of the Earth. Jean also developed the theory of impetus, which was able to show that planets were capable of motion without the interference of angles.

Just like Europe, astronomy prospered in the Islamic world and the other part of the world. Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi was a Persian astronomer who described the Andromeda Galaxy in his book ‘Fixed Stars’ in 1964. The Chinese astronomers and Ali ibn Ridwan, an Egyptian astronomer, observed the SN 1006 supernova in 1006. Except that many Muslim names worked in that field of study.

These prominent names are  Al-BattaniThe bitAbd al Rahman al-SufiBiruniAbū Ishāq Ibrāhīm al-ZarqālīAl-Birjandi, and astronomers of Maragheh and Samarkand observatories.Africa and other countries of that area also play vital roles in the development of astronomy. It is believed that the ruins of Zimbabwe and Timbuktu may have housed astronomical observatories. Astronomers of Post-classical West Africa studied the movements of stars and their relation to seasons. And they were also makinggraphs of Heavens and diagrams of orbits of the other planets by using multifaceted mathematical calculations.

Modern Scientific Revolution:

A heliocentric model of the solar system was proposed by Nicolas Copernicus in Renaissance and also defended by Galileo Galilee. It was further expanded by Johannes Kepler, who made a device that correctly described the detail of the movements of the planets around the sun.But Johannes failed in proving its work theoretically.The actions of the world are finally explained by Isaac Newton.  Withthe help of celestial dynamics and the law of gravity. It was also newton who developed the reflecting telescope.

As time passed, the telescope improved, and it led to further discoveries. John Flamsteed was an English astronomer who classified over 3000 stars. In 1871, William Herschel worked and made a detailed classification of nebulosity and clusters and discovered the first new planet ‘Uranus.’ More accurate predictions about the motions of the planets and Moon came by Leonhard Euler, Alexis Claude Clairaut, and Jean le Rond d’Alembert in 18-19thcenturies. Mass of the Moon and planets estimated from their perturbations was the work of Joseph-Louis Lagrange and Pierre Simon Laplace. Spectroscope and photography started with the invention of modern technologies and the advancement of the telescope.

Along with the existence of the external galaxies, ‘the Milky Way’ proved in the 20th century. Astronomers got a clue about the enlargement of the universe with the discoveries of the new galaxies.

The existence of the Black Hole and Neutron stars were coming in the knowledge because of theoretical astronomy. Big Bang theory was verbalized in the 1900s. In February 2016, it was disclosed that the LIGO project had detected evidence of gravitational waves, which were from the previous September.

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