To ancient sky watchers, Christopher Columbus was old news
Ancient Astronomy – Humans have been looking upward at the stars in the night sky for tens of thousands of years, wondering where it all began. Prehistoric humans revered the earth and heavens above and used the stars as a guide. Thousands of years ago ancient astronomers in China and India spent whole lifetimes staring into the vastness of time and space, cataloging the patterns of stars in the night sky. By the time Christopher Columbus announced the world was round, it was old news to ancient sky watchers in many regions of the world.
Greek Astronomy and Astronomers
The earth is a globe (Pythagoras)
In the western world it’s believed the fifth century BC Greek philosopher and astronomer Pythagoras originated the idea of a spherical earth, but the possibility of this idea being borrowed from Egyptian or eastern sources exists. Two hundred years later another Greek, Aristarchus of Samos, affirmed the belief in the earth’s spherical shape. He also announced the earth spun on its axis and, like the other planets, revolved around the sun. It wasn’t until the third century BC that Eratosthenes, custodian of the library of Alexandria, used his knowledge of astronomy to measure with considerable accuracy the earth’s circumference and diameter.
Astronomers in India
Ancient writings show that ancient astronomers of India had ascertained the spherical shape of the earth by the fourth century BC. Verses from the Sanskrit sacred books called the Vedas written in 3000 BC refer to a sun-centered universe. A universe ruled by the sun, moon, earth, sky and dawn, all deities to ancient astronomers in India, with attributes to match their natural ability. By the first century BC, it’s clear ancient astronomers and many common people in India knew the earth was spherical in shape.
Chinese astronomy has roots at least 4000 years old and China is considered by most archaeoastronomers to be the oldest known star watching society on earth. Ancient Chinese pottery dated to 6,000 years ago shows scenes of the sun, moon and stars, even ancient Chinese records of the stars are depicted on bones and shells, but the oldest known evidence points back as far as 14,000 BC. Ancient Chinese astronomers were studying and cataloging the patterns of stars in the sky tens of thousands of years ago.
By the time Christopher Columbus announced to the western world the earth was round, this was old news to star watchers and astronomers in many of the most advanced regions of the world.
Watch this documentary on the History Channel about Christopher Columbus.
Prehistoric Irish astronomers built sunbeams for the dead
Ancient Astronomy – Archaeoastronomy
Just thirty miles north of Dublin stands Newgrange, one of the great astronomical wonders of the prehistoric world. Poised on a long, low ridge overlooking the narrow Boyne River, ancient farmers over 5,000 years ago built an oddly shaped temple mound more than 260 feet in diameter and 30 feet high. A wall of sparkling white quartz lines the river-facing southern edge of the mound, with an entryway in the middle guarded by a massive, intricately carved stone. This ancient house of the dead is more than a heap of stones gathered by prehistoric farmers to celebrate and remember the dead. It’s also believed to have been a cathedral to the life-giving force embodied in the sun.
The entrance leads to a passage sixty-two feet long, lined with forty-three stones, each taller than a man and weighing ten to twelve tons. At the end of the passage lies an intricate structure of massive rocks, some carved with symbolic designs, forming a cross-shaped chamber that rises into a vault over twenty feet above the floor. Set in the floor of each arm of the chamber is a large, flat rock with a shallow indentation carved into it, called a basin stone. It was here over 5,000 years ago bodies of the deceased were placed and once a year a slender beam of sunlight brought intimations of life to the remains of the dead at the exact moment of midwinter sunrise for seventeen minutes.
Newgrange Astronomers Built Over Thirty Houses of the Dead
Newgrange is the largest and most elaborate of three similar New Stone Age tombs built by ancient Irish farmers near this part of the Boyne River. This house of the dead is also just one of over thirty mounds in the region and predates the building of Stonehenge by over 1,000 years and Egypt’s pyramids by several centuries. A true monument to the astronomical knowledge and tomb building skills of the prehistoric sky watchers of Ireland. Newgrange and other mounds in the region stand as testimony to their desire to understand the mysteries of the universe.
Click on this link to watch a YouTube video called “The Cygnus Enigma”, on the discussion on the astronomical significance of Newgrange.
Astronomy questions and answers – You have probably heard the expression, “We’re all just star dust” The truth is, depending on the age of the atoms in your body, you could have been stardust several times, by now. The average length of time astronomers estimate it takes atoms discharged during a supernova in the Milky Way to be recycled into a new star or solar system is several billion years.
How old is the stardust in you?
Figuring out the true age of the atoms in your body is going to be the hard part. Astronomers can give you an estimate for the age of the solar system, the Milky Way, and the universe. The numbers are insignificant to the question since we have no way of knowing where your atoms have been during the estimated 13.798 + or – 0.037 billion years the universe has been in existence. Your atoms could have been part of any number of solar systems and stars, by now.
We could narrow the estimate a bit, for you, but we would need to make two assumptions. Firstly, that the Milky Way is the only galaxy your atoms have been a part of during the past. This is most likely the case since astronomers believe galaxies formed relatively soon after the Big Bang. Secondly, that the heavy atoms in your body have only been part of one supernova during their existence. This assumption could possibly be a bit of a stretch, but even being part of one supernova, and returning to be reconsolidated would take several billion years. Once we do this, it becomes easier to narrow the estimate a bit.
A grain of stardust ejected during a supernova can follow a few different roads. It could be flung right out of its host galaxy as part of the galactic wind. Astronomers estimate maybe half of the star dust in the Milky Way presently will eventually follow this road. A percentage of this star dust will certainly be destroyed by the Milky Way’s hot halo, while the remainder will fall back into the galaxy. All most all of the stardust ejected from the galaxy in this way will never become part of a new star or solar system. The whole process is estimated by astronomers to take at least 10 billion years. Since we assume the heavy atoms of your body have only been part of the Milky Way and a single supernova, 10 billion years is an upper limit of the age of the atoms in your body.
Dust grains that aren’t ejected from the galaxy during a supernova event will become part of the interstellar medium (ISM). This is the low-density stardust that makes up the space between the stars. The majority of this stardust will also never make it into a new star or solar system. The star dust that does make it back into a new star or solar system will take several billion years to complete the process, as we mentioned above. Several means more than one or two, but not much more, so we’ll say around five billion years it has taken the atoms in your body to become part of the solar system. Astronomers studying the solar system also believe the solar system is around 4.6 billion years old, give or take a few million, and this is close to our estimate of 5 billion years old.
A rough estimate of the age of the stardust in you
There you have a rough estimate of the age of the atoms in your body. From 5 to 10 billion years, given the two assumptions we made. The real point is we are all made of stardust, no matter the age of the atoms in our body.
Click this link to watch a documentary with Neal DeGrasse Tyson on whether we are made of stardust.
The portion of the sky the Hubble Space Telescope is currently looking at is full of planets both big and small
Astronomy News – One of the greatest things about being an astronomer is the excitement of mystery and wonder you feel every time you discover something you never even suspected. This must have been the feeling running through the minds of astronomers looking at the data provided by the Hubble Space Telescope indicating the presence of planets around distant stars. The rush of adrenalin as they went over the data they had worked and waited for must have been truly euphoric.
What kind of planets would they find? Smaller rocky worlds like Earth, larger gas planets like Jupiter, or some unusual planet never before dreamed of. All of their hard work and dedication to the task-at-hand is about to open a door of discovery to worlds of wonder. Worlds with environments unlike anything we have experienced on Earth, where life we could never envision might have evolved. This is why astronomers spend countless days, weeks, months and ultimately lives studying the sky above our heads.
Astronomers see a sky full of planets
The small portion of the sky being studied by astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope is full of planets. Some appear to be of a similar rocky composition to our home planet while others appear to be totally inhospitable to Earth-type life. Planets like Earth are thought to be mainly composed of rocky material, which is denser and thus heavier than the materials making up gas planets. The planets being found orbiting stars in the portion of the sky being surveyed by Hubble are helping to rewrite planet formation theory and other areas of astronomical study. Astronomers are finding planets of types they were expecting to find, and a few they weren’t expecting to see.
The first planets found by the Hubble Space Telescope were large gas giants, like Jupiter and Saturn, but more recent finds have included planets similar in size and possible composition to Earth. Astronomers want to study Earth-like planets in an effort to uncover more secrets concerning the birth of our own solar system and the planet, which could give us clues to the development and evolution of Earth-like life in our universe. More recent developments even include the first direct imaging of a planet orbiting a distant star.
The truly amazing part is Hubble is only surveying a portion of the sky with around 100,000 suns and we’re finding more and more planets as astronomers continue to refine their planet finding techniques and instruments. Once we extrapolate and calculate the number of possible planets, using the available data so far gathered, we find the number of possible planets to be beyond count.
Astronomers will use the James Webb Space Telescope to journey to the beginning of space and time
During the 2013 human space odyssey, astronomers explored a portion of the night sky with the Hubble Space Telescope and exclaimed. It’s full of planets! In the years ahead during the human journey to the beginning of space and time, we expect astronomers to discover undreamed-of worlds, revolving around suns we humans can’t even conceive of. Especially once the James Webb Space Telescope comes online we should expect to visit undreamed of planets.
Best to buckle your seatbelt and prepare for the ride of your life! The human journey to the beginning of space and time is about to take off to planets beyond imagination. In the months and years ahead we expect to visit worlds with environments we would find inhospitable at best. Worlds where human survival would be doubtful and any life we found would be unusual beyond imagination.
Click this link to watch a YouTube video on weird planets in the universe.
Chinese astronomy and astronauts prepare to head to the stars
Astronomy News (August 2012) –
A red August sun hangs in Beijing’s afternoon sky as over 3,000 of the world’s top astronomers arrive in the city for the first hosting of the annual two-week meeting of the International Astronomical Union in China. This first hosting of the annual meeting of the top astronomers in the world marks a significant step in the Chinese desire to reclaim an astronomical heritage thousands of years in the making after a 46-year long break brought about by China’s 1966 Cultural Revolution. A break that has put Chinese astronomy and astronomers lagging behind the West in both technology and facilities designed to help man study the stars and lost China its seat as one of the leaders of the human journey to the beginning of space and time.
The roots of Chinese astronomy go deep into the history of the human journey to the beginning of space and time, back to a time when many people in the western world were still worshipping heavenly bodies in the sky as deities. As early as 2650 B.C., Chinese astronomers were recording the changes and patterns in the sky. Chinese astronomer Li Shu was recording his sightings of the sky over China during this period, including solar eclipses, which to the ancient Chinese meant dragons were devouring the sun. Total solar eclipses were often also used to determine the future health and welfare of current emperors and empires and according to some Chinese historians led to the downfall of dynasties in ancient China. A Chinese calendar from the period used the location of star Antares to mark the start of each year. Over 4 centuries later, Chinese astronomers were still timing solstices and equinoxes using Antares and three other stars as their guide, as described in the ‘Chinese Book of Documents’ Canon of Yao.
Thousands of years ago Chinese astronomers spent whole lifetimes studying the stars and charted the events they saw occurring in the night sky. They recorded the deaths of at least ninety exploding stars in the night sky between 1700 B.C. and 1600 A.D. Designed, engineered and built instruments and devices to help map the night sky and accurately keep track of time. These sky maps and timekeeping devices were then used by ancient Chinese astronomers to determine future alignments of stars and planets and the correct times to plant and harvest crops.
Drive along Chang’an Avenue, just east of Tiananmen Square, and you’ll see ancient relics of China’s astronomical past. Eight astronomical instruments, each hundreds of years old, sit poised atop the spot where Beijing’s Ancient Observatory was built during the Ming Dynasty around 1442. This location was popular with ancient Chinese astronomers of this period of history from around China and the world and was used to map the heavens for hundreds of years.
Today Chinese astronomy is once again reclaiming its seat on the human journey to the beginning of space and time. In the decades ahead China will likely be a leader and significant partner in the human desire to travel through the solar system and into the cosmos. In fact, the first human to step onto a planet in our solar system, other than Earth, could be Chinese and possibly female.
Chinese Astronomy Stands Ready to Lead the Human Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time
The Chinese celestial dragon is preparing to stand and spread its wings across the breadth of the solar system during the decades ahead. Driven by an ancient desire to understand and explore the universe, China has been investing time, energy and money during the past two decades in new facilities to help study the stars. China has started designing, engineering and building new astronomical observatories throughout the country and even in space. In the years ahead Chinese astronomers will likely provide new astronomy insights and discoveries to delight the soul and inspire the stargazer within us all. Setting the stage for China to once again take its seat as a leader of the human journey to the beginning of space and time and become a valuable partner in the human desire to reach the stars.
Chinese astronomers and astronauts stand ready to lead the next phase of human space exploration
71 miles (114 kilometers) north of Beijing, at the Xinglong Mountain Observatory, sits LAMOST (Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopic Telescope) a new instrument named for 13th-century Chinese astronomer Guo Shou Jing. Built to help Chinese astronomy survey the stars of the Milky Way, in order to try to determine the structure of our galaxy, LAMOST will collect the light from around 4,000 stars at once using a 20-degree field of view. Capable of determining the line-of-sight velocity of millions of stars in the sky, Chinese astronomers expect LAMOST to achieve its greatest results when teamed with the data expected from the European Space Agency’s GAIA spacecraft, which is set to launch in 2013. Together, LAMOST and GAIA should be able to provide us with a three-dimensional catalog of millions of the stars in the Milky Way. This achievement would be a big step toward Chinese astronomy once again becoming a leader in the human journey to the beginning of space and time.
Click this link to watch a YouTube documentary on the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Astronomical Society
“Blink, blink, Demon Star. We know not what you are”
Ancient Astronomy –
Tonight the human journey to the beginning of space and time travels 93 light years to the constellation Perseus, to check out Algol, a bright blue beacon in the sky astronomers in Egypt and China studied extensively for centuries. Called the Demon Star by some stargazers, this bright blue star was believed by ancient Greeks to represent the blinking eye of Gorgon the Medusa, held high in the hands of Perseus the Hero. This is thought to be the case due to periodic changes in the Demon Star that occur every few days. The word Algol comes from the Arabic for al-Ghul – the ghoul.
Ancient astronomers in Egypt and China studied Algol
Modern astronomers studying Algol believe the Demon Star has a macabre habit to match its moniker. You see Algol’s a multiple star system composed of one star in the act of consuming the outer layers of the other. According to theory, two such stars in close proximity should be interacting
Modern astronomers have been studying Algol’s periodic blinking every few days, since sometime in the 17th century. In 1783, a young astronomer called John Goodricke sent a letter to the Royal Society of London suggesting this blinking could be due to a darker body passing in front of a star. It wasn’t until 1881 that University of Harvard astronomer Edward Dickering confirmed Algol has more than one sun. In fact, around 1912 a team of astronomers in Helsinki determined Algol has a brilliant blue star and bloated red star orbiting periodically close together, with a third star orbiting the pair at a distance.
Modern astronomers studied the Demon Star
The periodic blinking of the Demon Star occurs when the red bloated star passes in front of the blue star, merging the pair into a single point of light, which accounts for Algol turning blood red, before turning blue again around 10 hours later.
Click this link to watch a YouTube documentary on Algol. The documentary is a mix of different videos on the dying star, which the site has put into one show. Pretty cool stuff.
The human journey to the beginning of space and time begins
Astronomers watch the greatest show on Earth every night
Astronomy News ( 2013-10-15) – Walk out to the darkest star viewing spot you can find at dusk and take a seat, “The greatest show on Earth is about to begin!” Lay back on your cold seat and you become lost-in-space as you stare upwards at one of the first sights to greet human consciousness onto the stage upon awakening during the distant past. Close your eyes and let your mind boldly fly off into the night sky in search of new lands of promise warmed by alien suns. Stand upon undreamed landscapes straight out of the Twilight Zone and record ideas and thoughts that could alter the course of human history and open up avenues to undreamed of events. Human beings have looked skyward in wonder and awe for thousands of years and dreamed of voyaging to the lights in the night sky. Today humans dream of traveling to the nearest star in our sky and standing on alien landscapes which will alter human beings as a race and create history unlike anything dreamed of by science fiction writers.
Will human adventures travel across outer space to distant suns in search of answers to questions pondered throughout human history? Will human beings one day journey through the universe seeking the origins of human life or a suitable planet to call home? As Mr. Roddenberry points out, space will be one of the last frontiers of humankind. At the current rate of technological growth, it could be only a matter of time before human beings have the ability to travel across interstellar space looking for non-terrestrial life and the resources humans need to survive and prosper.
Space Exploration will be far more challenging than life on earth
Traveling across the vast stretches of outer space between Earth and a nearby star system will be far more challenging and dangerous to undertake then climbing the tallest mountain or sailing an unexplored ocean. The distances in both space and time involved in such voyages will require human beings to surmount technological and social obstacles unlike any experienced during life on planet Earth. During the past century, humans have designed and engineered mechanized devices capable of launching into outer space and crossed the short stellar distance between Earth and its moon. We have started to become acquainted with life-in-space and the challenges involved in space travel. During the next fifty years, mankind will travel into the solar system and start to develop the technology required to successfully travel to nearby star systems to begin life again under an alien sun.
Does mankind presently have the technology, will power, and resources to journey to a nearby star system? The answer at this point in human history is a realistic and resounding, “No!” Using a reaction engine similar to the liquid oxygen/hydrogen main engine of the space shuttle to travel to the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, would require over 100 years and fuel tanks too big to carry. Nuclear powered propulsion using fusion or fission requires technology and radiation shielding presently unavailable in order for human beings to survive the journey. Doctors also have questions concerning the possible medical problems associated with long-term exposure to acceleration and deep space radiation, and the drag forces involved using this form of propulsion still have to be addressed. The often dreamed of, but at this point unrealized, warp drive will probably never make it off the pages of science fiction books and into the cold of deep space. Instead, it will be replaced by an undreamed of propulsion system allowing us to travel closer to the speed of light, or circumvent the universe’s speed limit using a new idea, yet to be conceived.
If mankind made traveling to the nearest star system the top priority during the years ahead what would be needed to make the journey a success? The answer to this question continues to change as scientists and engineers study the goal more. The closest alien sun to Earth is the Red Dwarf Proxima Centauri, which on average is the short stellar distance of just 4.22 light-years (24.7 trillion miles or 29.9 km) away. Traveling at the estimated speed of Voyager 1, around 37,000 mph, it would take a spaceship over 76,000 years to complete the journey. During this length of time, human beings would have long enough to evolve significantly in the new and alien environment of deep space. Would we recognize our human ancestors after 76,000 years evolving during a trip through outer space?
Proxima Centauri also has no known planets upon which humans could begin life again under an alien sun. This Red Dwarf star is also significantly cooler than our own sun, so the habitability of any existing alien worlds would be questionable at best. Optimistic humans point out that Proxima Centauri is part of a bigger star system, containing other possible candidates which could have habitable planets. This dim star is considered by many to be part of the bigger Alpha Centauri system, which includes the binary stars Alpha Centauri A and B, just 4.4 light-years from Earth. Astronomers and scientists have their doubts about the possibility of other habitable planets in this star system at this point. Instead, they point to star systems further out in deep space, which seem to offer a better possibility of habitable planets.
The stars can’t wait
If humans move to a new home circling an alien sun, we’ll do it in stages, beginning with the exploration of the solar system. The International Space Station will be the staging point for the next phase of the exploration of the solar system. From here we can reach outward into the solar system to see what mysteries and discoveries await us just beyond the visible horizon. We’ll need time to develop the technology required for interstellar space travel and the terraforming of alien worlds. In the meantime, we’ll continue to send out envoys and ambassadors in the form of unmanned spacecraft to nearby star systems within our reach. The first of these envoys of the human race, Voyager 1, has traveled a distance of around 11 billion miles during 35 years of continuous space travel. This puts Voyager 1 still firmly within the boundaries of the known solar system, which reaches some 4.6 trillion miles into cold space and the Oort Cloud on the fringes of our system of planets. Eventually, Voyager 1 will travel beyond the boundaries of the solar system and into interstellar space, and this is when the real human journey to the beginning of space and time begins.
Click this link to watch a YouTube video on the search for earth-like planets.
Understanding how large star clusters form could tell us more about star formation when the universe was young
Astronomers news (2013-10-14) – Tonight we’ll journey to the truly titanic 30 Doradus nebula (also called the Tarantula nebula), 170 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, aboard the Hubble Space Telescope. The Large Magellanic Cloud is a smaller satellite galaxy to the Milky Way, where astronomers recently discovered something they suspected about the formation of larger star clusters.
Using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, we’ll be able to look at images of the Tarantula nebula filled with startling reds, greens and blues, which indicates to astronomers the elemental composition of the stars in the region. Blue light is from the hottest, most massive stars astronomers have found to date. Red light is from fluorescing hydrogen gas, while green light is the glow of oxygen.
Every element on the periodic table gives off light with a specific signature upon fluorescing. Scientists use this knowledge to analyze the light reaching Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 from the Tarantula nebula to determine the elemental composition of the stars in the region .They hope to use this knowledge to answer questions they have concerning star formation when the universe was still in its infancy.
NASA astronomers see something different going on in 30 Doradus
We’ll specifically journey to a region of the 30 Doradus nebula where astronomers recently discovered a pair of star clusters which they first thought was a single star cluster, is in fact a pair of star clusters in the initial stages of merging into a larger star cluster. Astronomers now think the merging of star clusters could help explain the abundance of large star clusters throughout the visible universe.
Lead scientist Elena Sabbi of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland and her team first started looking at the region to find runaway stars. Runaway stars are fast-moving stars that have been kicked out of the stellar nursery where they first formed. Astronomers found the region surrounding 30 Doradus has a large number of runaway stars, which according to current star formation theories could not have formed at their present location. Astronomers now believe the runaway stars outside 30 Doradus could have been ejected out of the region at high speed due to dynamic interactions with other stellar bodies as the two star clusters merge into one larger star cluster.
Astrophysicists and astronomers started looking for clues
The first clue to the true nature of the event astronomers were viewing was the fact that parts of the star cluster varied in age by about 1 million years. Upon further study the team noticed the distribution of low-mass stars detected by Hubble were not spherical in shape as astronomers expected, but resembled the elongated shape of two merging galaxies. Now astronomers are studying this region of space and time to find clues to help them understand the way larger star clusters are formed in the universe. They also hope this discovery will help determine interesting and enlightening facts concerning the formation of star clusters when the universe was still young.
Astronomers are also looking further at this region of space and time to find other star clusters in the process of merging in the 30 Doradus nebula. They plan on using the ability of the James Webb Space Telescope to detect infrared light , once it comes on line, to take a closer look at areas within the Tarantula nebula where they think stars hidden within cocoons of dust are blocked from the view of telescopes and instruments detecting visible light.