5
votes
1answer
91 views

How did Kepler arrive at his laws?

How did Kepler arrive at his laws? If one already knows the distances to the planets (and the eccentricity of the orbits etc.) it is understandable how one might proceed to establish the second and ...
7
votes
1answer
235 views

How did Eratosthenes know the suns rays are parallel?

Eratosthenes famously observed that the suns rays were perpendicular to the ground in one location, yet non-perpendicular to the ground at a location some miles to the north. On the assumption that ...
5
votes
2answers
106 views

When did we learn that stars die?

As we all know, the stars we see in the night sky might already be dead. I was wondering though, when was this fact or conclusion commonly established? Today, most people (let's assume with an above ...
6
votes
3answers
218 views

How do people work out the trajectories of planets and stars just by looking at them?

I've been thinking about how astronomers can look at bright dots in the sky and deduce a whole bunch of things from their movements. I'm particularly interested in how people like Kepler and Galileo, ...
3
votes
1answer
123 views

Tycho's stellar parallax measurements

How, exactly, did Tycho Brahe do his measurements of (no) stellar parallax? All the descriptions of parallax that I have been able to find seem to talk about the change in position of a nearby star ...
4
votes
2answers
276 views

How many stars did people think there were in the 11th century (or thereabouts)?

I hope this isn't too off-topic. Someone showed me a reference to a French, 11th century biblical commentator who implied that there were over 600,000 stars. This got me thinking, how many stars did ...
8
votes
3answers
518 views

What made us think that Earth moves around the Sun?

Trying to observe the night sky for a few weeks, the motion of the Sun and the stars pretty much fits into the Geocentric Theory i.e. All of them move around the Earth. What then, which particular ...
1
vote
1answer
140 views

Do stars appear to move with uniform motion?

The Ancient Greek astronomers had quite an obsession over uniform circular motion; I was wondering if there was a logical reason for this. Did it develop through actual observations of the stars? Do ...
4
votes
1answer
439 views

How did pre-Copernican astronomers accurately predict planetary position?

Copernican elements (circular orbital elements) are not very accurate. But Copernicus simplified our understanding a great deal by placing the Sun at the center of the system. Im astonished by the ...
18
votes
4answers
353 views

How accurate are Mayan astronomical “ephemerides”?

Because of the hype surrounding the "end" of the Mayan calendar (along with the usual cultural relativism and Western guilt) it is nearly impossible to find an objective quantitative assessment of the ...
1
vote
1answer
98 views

Is “Egyptian Year” the same as a modern sidereal year?

Copernicus uses the term "Egyptian Year" throughout his discussions of the movements of the Earth, and of his and other models of the movements of the planets; but is unclear from his text, or from ...
1
vote
1answer
141 views

What are “cycles of anomaly” and “cycles of longitude”?

In several early (pre-1600) astronomical texts I read about "cycles of anomaly" and "cycles of longitude", but it us unclear to me what these terms mean. They were clearly familiar to authors at the ...
1
vote
0answers
132 views

What is the angular distance between Ptolemaic perigees of Mercury?

In his excellent treatment of the history of the science of astronomical distances and sizes, Albert van Helden says (p.29) that The complicated [Ptolemaic] model of Mercury has the curious ...
2
votes
1answer
616 views

How did Copernicus establish the relative distance to the superior planets?

I understand that the relative distances to the planets had been calculated using various methods since ancient times, and, in particular, that the assumptions of the Copernican model of the Solar ...
2
votes
1answer
287 views

Did Aristarchus take the radius of the Earth into account in calculating the distance to the Moon?

My text says that Aristarchus (310 BC – ~230 BC) measured the "angle subtended by the Earth-Moon distance at the Sun" ($\theta$ in the figure below) to establish the relative Earth-Moon and Earth-Sun ...
4
votes
2answers
189 views

How could Horrocks have measured the AU?

I have always understood that the great historical significance of the transits of Venus, and the reason for the expeditions mounted to observe it, were that, by observing it simultaneously from two ...
5
votes
1answer
437 views

When and how were relative distances to the planets first measured?

I understand that the absolute distance to a planet can be measured using earth-baseline (e.g., diurnal) parallax, and that the first reasonably accurate such measurement was made for Mars by Cassini ...
9
votes
2answers
392 views

Was Jupiter's mass “guessed at” by Kepler or Galileo?

Following Kepler's publication of his 3rd law of planetary motion1, $$p^2 / r^3 = 1$$ in 1619, it would have been possible to use telescopic observations to arrive at an estimate of the orbital ...
3
votes
1answer
104 views

How did Cook and other astronomers time the 1769 Venus transit?

The 1769 transit of Venus was observed and coordinated by over one hundred astronomers around the world. How did they measure time so accurately, key to the observations having any scientific value? I ...
8
votes
2answers
1k views

How did Halley calculate the distance to the Sun by measuring the transit of Venus?

What numbers did Halley, Cook, et al. have? What was the strategy by which they calculated the AU?
10
votes
3answers
258 views

Why did the ancients fail to discover that the Earth orbits the Sun?

The ancients observed that the Sun and the 'fixed' stars rotated about the Earth. They were also aware that the Earth was spherical. They performed many astronomical measurements on the planets - ...