The Lost Art of Astronomy: A Disconnection with the Stars?
Before the common use of electricity, there was little that would hide our view of the night sky. It has been a part of history for many people to draw and record the positions of the stars. Many people would record the position of the stars every night for years.
"The 'ancients' would have enjoyed skies free from the glare of artificial light. Stars would have become as familiar as the landscapes that surrounded their homes."—Unknown
What did they all notice?
Early astronomers recorded several things, a lot of these notes matched up. Here are some of the things they witnessed:
- Some of the stars never moved and rarely changed in brightness, these were commonly referred to as "Fixed" Stars.
- "Wandering Stars" were similar to fixed stars, except they would slightly move location every night and they would disappear for weeks or months or years and would then reappear.
- Others were "Shooting Stars" that would streak across the night sky only for a second or two.
- On rare occasions, "Fiery Objects" would streak through the sky. Sometimes they even remained visible for months... but eventually they disappeared. These fiery objects are now known as comets.
- What is even more interesting, is that some astronomers wrote that they witnessed one of these "fiery objects" would become a "blinding streak of light" followed by a crashing to the ground.
Around The North Star
This is a time-lapse photo that shows the circular pattern of stars moving around the North Star, Polaris.
Fixed stars and Wandering stars were often seen as various shapes throughout the year, which later became known as "Constellations."
The "Shooting Stars" of course turned out to not really be stars at all, they are little pieces of dust, ice, and rock that would enter into the Earth's atmosphere at speeds measured in the tens of thousands of kilometers per hour and would burn up. These are known as Meteors. In outer space and in greater size, they are also known as Meteoroids. It is only when they reach the atmosphere that they are called meteors.
The "wandering" stars appeared to cause a lot of confusion to early astronomers. In fact, it was only about 300 years ago that these wandering stars were found out to not be stars at all. Instead, they are planets whose bright appearance was only a reflection of sunlight.These planets would move along a fixed pathway in the sky and would return on a regular basis.
In the night sky, the Moon is what you will see the most. It's hard to miss. It revolves around Earth and the two of us revolve around a central point located just beneath the Earth's surface. Of course, it is only the Sun's reflection that makes the Moon "shine."
Fun Fact: The Greek word for "wandering star" is "Planetesimo."
A Disconnection with the Stars?
Throughout history, people were very familiar with the stars. You didn't have to be an astronomer in history to known more about the stars than most people today living in "civilized" societies. The stars were a source of entertainment and wonder. Throughout the world, pyramids and monuments have been constructed to act as astronomical observatories or guideposts.
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A sleek look, easy operation. “Astronomy Magazine - Interactive Star Charts, Planets, Meteors, Comets, Telescopes.” Astronomy.com, www.astronomy.com/.
“Passengers.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 21 Dec. 2016, www.imdb.com/title/tt1355644/.