Astronomy #1: The Basics

“When people hear the word “astronomy”, they usually think of stargazing. That’s actually how it got started — by people looking at the sky and charting what they saw. “Astronomy” comes from two old Greek terms astron for “star” and nomia for “law”, or “laws of the stars”. That idea actually underlies the history of astronomy: a long road of figuring out what objects in the sky are and what laws of nature govern them. To reach an understanding of cosmic objects, people had to do a lot of observing. That showed them the motions of objects in the sky, and led to the first scientific comprehension of what they might be.

Throughout human history, people have “done” astronomy and eventually found that their observations of the sky gave them clues to the passage of time. It should be no surprise that people began to to use the sky more than 15,000 years ago. It provided handy keys for navigation and calendar-making thousands of years ago. With the invention of such tools as the telescope, observers began to learn more about the physical characteristics of the stars and planets, which led them to wonder about their origins.

The study of the sky moved from a cultural and civic practice to the realm of science and mathematics.”


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