The History of Astronomy

Welcome to the History Unit. I hope you remembered to do your constellation observation and familiarize yourself with the night sky. This unit will focus on the history of Astronomy up through the Copernican Revolution. The unit is by no means complete in its coverage, so suggested connecting links are included for those students who wish to learn more of the details.

Astronomy is perhaps the oldest of the sciences, for one only needs to look up at the sky and ask questions about what is there and how it works. But ever since man has taken a good look at the sky, he has wondered about what it all means, and what if there might be a purpose to the stars and also to his existence. The earliest astronomers used their knowledge to predict seasons, hold feasts, and perhaps share a few stories. Later cultures wondered how the stars got up there, and myths were proposed to tell of gods and goddesses. The Greeks sought to explain the workings of the sky from a natural point of view, although mythology still abounded. The Dark Ages were marked by an antagonistic stand against any science, so for centuries, no one publicly sought answers for the workings of the celestial objects. Martin Luther opened the door to a new way of thinking regarding Biblical interpretation, and scientists were emboldened to publicly debate their interpretations of the natural world. In time, Copernicus changed our worldview, and his idea was confirmed by Kepler, Galileo, and Newton.

The history unit is broken down into several sections, and proposes to give you a look back at the evolution of Astronomy as a science:

The Scientific Method and Religion - this is required reading, and central to this course!


Ancient Astronomy

Greek Astronomy

The Protestant Reformation - this is optional reading

The Copernican Revolution:

Introduction to the Revolution

Nicholas Copernicus

Tycho Brahe

Johannes Kepler

Galileo Galilei

Confirming and Refining the Copernican Model: Isaac Newton

Assignments to complete during and after this History Unit include:

Ancient Astronomy Quiz

Copernican Revolution-Reformation Quiz

Copernican Revolution-Reformation Paper

Students are expected to work through this unit in the suggested sequence of the syllabus, paying particular attention to the changes in Astronomy from Ptolemy through Isaac Newton. A thorough understanding of the relationship between the Protestant Reformation and the Astronomy Revolution will be critical to understanding what brought science out of the Dark Ages. At the conclusion of this unit, students will be asked to write the one major paper for this course, and to fulfill the requirements of the Minnesota State Graduation Standards for this course. Click on Grad Standard Paper for further information on this assignment before you begin your study of the History of Astronomy.

A great deal of time has been spent preparing this unit. While the astronomy student might wish to go outside and observe, I think that a review of the history of this science is crucial to developing an appreciation of the night sky. The resources for this unit include textbooks, historical biographies, and internet study. I am hopeful than students will see how strong the tie between the people and the Church was during the Dark Ages into Enlightenment and how difficult was the transition back to scientific reasoning and exploring the world around us. I do not wish to offend anyone's particular religious view, whether atheist, theist, polytheist, etc. I do wish to portray an accurate account of the history of the Roman Catholic Church and the priestly interpretation of specific Biblical texts which supported an erroneous view of the solar system. There is a lot of reading, but I hope that you will enjoy this unit as much as I did in preparing it.

We will begin by going to Archaeoastronomy. Of course, you can always return to the Syllabus or the Home page.

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