AstroStories: Astronomy, Astrology, and Mythology

Stories, Myths of the Ancient World

Stories, Myths of the Ancient World

AstroStories ~ Astronomy. Astrology. Mythology.

Astronomy is the oldest science, evolving from storytelling and navigation to being combined with astrology and horoscopes to discoveries familiar to today’s technology. From the Stone Age to ancient civilizations, Renaissance, and the modern era, people look to the skies every night to solve its mystery, only to raise more questions about the Universe. In this series, I want to explore the stories passed down from generation to generation and preserved for millenia, adding a new dimension to astronomy— imagination. It’s not enough to know the facts and analyze data. Mythology and astrology was deeply integrated into the ancients’ daily life and astronomy. When the ancient peoples congregated at night, stories of the constellations, such as those of the great heroes Perseus and Orion the Hunter, sprung from vivid imagination.

The Sunday before last, I went on an astronomy night hike with friends at the local trails. I not only saw Saturn, Jupiter, and an artificial satellite ricocheting through the Big Dipper, but also reenacted a scene about Orion the Hunter, the seven sisters, Zeus, Artemis, and Scorpio. I realized the permanence of these timeless stories, able to penetrate many cultures and decades.


Early Astronomy History: Timeline

EARLY HISTORY (2700 B.C. – 1600 A.D.)

Early Astronomy: Predicting Eclipses, Determining Equinoxes and Solstices

2700 B.C. (Stonehenge, England) – stones marked solstices and equinoxes; Aubrey holes predicted eclipses

2000 B.C. [Sumerians] – earliest constellations (bull, lion, scorpion); base 60 system

2000 B.C. [Babylonians] – Pythagorean Theorem

1000 B.C. [Egyptians] – helical rising of Sirius; 12 month, 30 day calendar; sundial

1000 B.C. [Chinese] – counting boards

700 B.C. – 50 A.D. [Babylonians] – planetary positions and eclipses

600 B.C [Pre-Greek: Thales of Miletus] – solar eclipse prediction, Saros Cycle; constellations as known today

600 B.C. (Miletus, Greece) [Anaximander] – shadow from stick t calculate the length of the year; life originated in water, evolved from simpler forms

500 B.C [Pythagoras of Samos] – spherical moon, spherical-moving Earth

450 B.C [Empodocles] – water thief to argue that air must be so finely divided that it’s invisible

400 B.C. [Chinese] – sunspots

400 B.C. [Democritus] – atoms, large number of other worlds, Milky Way aggregates of light from other galaxies

4th Century B.C [Plato] – proposed Uniform Circular Motion of Planets; spherical Earth

350 B.C. (Athens, Greece) [Aristotle]– model of the solar system: spherical universe centered on solid spherical Earth (geocentric view); moon between Earth and Sun; all objects are from the four elements – earth, water, fire, and air; earth and heaven to be subject to two different sets of laws

300 B.C. (Alexandria) [Euclid] – most prominent mathematician; “Elements”: geometry; conic sections

310-250 B.C. [Aristarchus of Samos] – relative distances and sizes of the Moon and the Sun; Sun at the center of the solar system (heliocentric view); used Earth’s shadow to measure the size of the moon

200 B.C. (Alexandria) [Eratosthenes] – measured earth’s size using simple geometry and scientific process

130 B.C. [Hipparchus of Rhodes] – star maps; star catalog of 850 stars, precession; epicycles

150 A.D. [Ptolemy] – fixed Aristotle’s model with the epicycle theory: planets move in epicycles (small circular paths around which the planets move); the centers pf epicycles are along the deferent (big circle)

250 A.D. [Mayans] – “place-value” number system

500 A.D [Hyptia] – first known woman astronomer, librarian of Alexandria

500 A.D. [Chinese] – solar wind; comets: tail of comets always point away from the Sun

6th – 9th Century A.D. [Persian and Arabic Astronomy] – “Al-Sufi”: Book of Stars Showing Orion Nebula; “Al-Battani”: Non-circularity of Earth’s Orbit

10th Century A.D. [Mayans] – Dresden Codex, Venus tables, eclipse tables

10th Century A.D. [Chinese] – star map showing 26 sections

1054 A.D. [Chinese] – supernova: remnant traced to Crab Nebula

1100 A.D. [Pueblo Native Americans] – Sun Dagger

1270 A.D. [Samarkand] – star catalog

Mid-1400’s A.D. (Germany) [Regiomontanus] – “Ephemeris”; “The Nuremberg Chronicle” – planetary positions and comet charts