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The astronomical clock in Prague

Astronomy is the science of celestial bodies or cosmic matter. As opposed to astrology it does not attempt to find meaning in the movements of these bodies but concentrates on investigating their origins, development, arrangement, composition and movement. This understanding is based on observation of the cosmos and measurement of radiation which is then assessed according to the laws of physics and chemistry. Astrophysics, which attempts to gain a more accurate picture of cosmic events, has developed as a specialised branch of astronomy.

There are records of astronomical observation which go back at least three thousand years, although they may have begun much earlier. Astronomy is therefore considered to be the oldest branch of science. The Egyptians, Sumerians, Babylonians, Chinese, Indians and the Indians of Central America all made systematic written records of planetary movements which enabled them to recognise the fundamental patterns on which they based their calendars. The earliest type was probably based on the cycles of the Moon. The knowledge that these cultures gathered helped in developing astrological thought.

The Greeks, with their highly developed mathematics, tried to systematise their observations in the hope of being able to draw further conclusions. They recognised the oblique nature of the ecliptic and the orbits of the various planets. The idea that the Earth may be a globe surfaced five centuries before the Christian Era, and one hundred years later Aristarch speculated the heliocentric model of our solar system with the Sun at its centre. Ptolemy recorded the knowledge of antiquity around 150 AD in his book "Algamest" which remained the most important astrological work in the Western World until the modern era.

After the downfall of the classical world astronomical science declined in Europe and its center shifted to Arabian Cultural circles, with Baghdad becoming the most important centre of learning. Astrology then experienced a renewed renaissance in modern times that made a decisive contribution to the newly emerging universal form of human consciousness. Nicolas Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton made discoveries which, among other things, helped to establish the heliocentric world model with the planets orbiting around the Sun and the laws of gravity. The invention and rapid improvements of telescopes enabled much more detailed observation of the cosmos.

Research into invisible radiation (including radio and gamma rays), manned and unmanned space exploration and the possibility to electronically process data enabled astronomy to make great advances in the twentieth century. This not only made it possible to use science to speculate on the age of the universe, but also to postulate the existence of twin planets and antimatter.

The astronomical insights into the origins and development of the universe led to growing numbers of scientists not necessarily rejecting the idea of some kind of divine plan. However, this has not led to a modern rehabilitation of astrology.

French cartoon from 1900

See also