What is the history of Astronomy? How did it come into existence? Astronomy is by far the most popular of all the natural sciences, having roots in antiquity, with its roots in the belief, mythological, astrological, and cartographical beliefs, and practices of ancient pre-historical times. The term “astronomy” comes from two Latin words: aulus and selius, referring respectively to the sky and the earth.
Ancient people observed the stars and the moon through naked-eye. Ancient Indians (Hindus) had mysterious devices allowed them to measure the distance, both east and west, between the two celestial bodies. The first map of the heavens was drawn around 360 BC by the Greek poet Homer (the father of modern music, Sophocles), who based his descriptions on the real observation of his own experience.
In modern times, astronomy has gone through a variety of phases. Modern astronomers observe stars in the Milky Way and other large celestial bodies such as the galaxy and space dust. They also use the Very Large Telescope (telescopes larger than 50 feet) and infrared lasers to study star formations and other celestial objects. Astronomy clubs exist in almost every major U.S. city. Many state and county calendars feature astronomical information, or provide links to websites dealing with this popular subject.
The history of Astronomy can be divided into three major eras in recorded human history. The first period was brought on by the Hinduism and rise of Greco-Roman culture. Its key figures, including the sky-goddess Eos (also spelled Euse) of Cyprus and the Roman sky god Jupiter (or Juno in some sources), made the skies more closely related to the gods of Greek and Roman cultures. Thus, the skies were treated more like the domain of the deities rather than the messengers of the gods.
The next main era of astronomy was the period known as the Dark Ages, when people found it difficult to understand the stars and the movement of the planets. Not only that, but it was also dangerous to look up at the stars and the universe (as the Christians would recognize it today). In the 8th century, it was uncertain whether the Earth was round or oblong. And, while the Medieval Church tried to solve these problems by making complicated formulas involving mathematical equations, it was still not entirely clear what the actual relationship between the heavenly bodies and the Earth was. Fortunately, astronomy regained a measure of confidence after the Middle Ages, when the Greeks and Romans finally understood the place of the moon in their astronomical systems. It is said that Hinduism gave knowledge of astronomy to Greeks, who forwarded it to the Egyptians and later Romans. The Romans delivered this knowledge safely to the Christians. Islamic Invasion of Indian subcontinent meant Islam got equipped with the knowledge of Astronomy via Hinduism. It seems like a circle linking everyone, right?
In the modern era, there are many ongoing studies related to the history of astronomy. This is not limited to astronomy, though. For example, many of the published materials on the history of cosmology have come from the philosophy department. Philosophy specializes in questions concerning naturalism, i.e., the belief that all things in nature are entirely natural and exist without any supernatural causes. Many cosmologists – i.e., those who believe that the universe and the stars are orderly and consistent – also hold to a naturalistic worldview.
It certainly can be interesting to study the relationship between different cultures with respect to the sky and the placement of stars. Different cultures place different constellations and other celestial objects differently. This can help us better understand how the constellations and stars were selected by indigenous cultures. While the specific details of the relationship between cultures may not always be easily found in written works, much can be inferred from a detailed sky chart drawn in the early Chinese history records.