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Ancient Observations: Earth, Sun, and Universe

Before there were telescopes that astronomers could use to peer into the sky, people of the past lacked the knowledge of the stars, moon, and planets that we have today. In this article, you will encounter some of the observations that were made without the help of modern technology.

12th century BC , Around the 12th century BC, an ancient Indian collection of sacred Vedic Sanskrit hymns called the Rigveda has hymns that make mention to cosmology. The references are particularly evident in the late book 10. The Nasadiya Sukta is part of the 10th Mandala of the Ridveda , representing the 129th hymn. It is significant because it gives a description of the origin of the universe, stating that it came from what is referred to as the “Golden Egg.”

6th century BC , When taking a look at the Babylonian world map, researchers saw that Babylon was located on the Euphrates, which was surrounded by a circular landmass comprised of Assyria, Armenia and many other cities. Additional features of the map showed a formation of seven islands that resembles contemporary cosmology assocaited with the Bible of the Tanakh. They believed that the Earth as a plain or a hil that was shaped like a hemisphere that was situated on top of water. Overhead was a vault that they believed stars were fastened to it.

4th century BC , Aristotle, the infamous Greek philosopher, poses the theory that Earth is at the center of the universe and that the planet stands still, where the universe is “finite in extent but infinite in time.” To learn more about the theories and studies of Aristotle, seek out the article titled, “10 Facts About Ancient Philosopher: Aristotle.”

3rd century BC , Aristarchus of Samos believed that the Sun was at the center of the universe. The ancient Greek astronomer and mathematician came from the island of Samos in Greece. He is credited as being the first individual to pose his heliocentric model of the solar system. While others placed the Earth as the center of the universe, he sided with the Sun. During his time, his theories were rejected because Aristotle and Ptolemy gained more popularity for their geocentric assessments. However, almost 1,800 years later, his theories enjoyed a successful revival when astronomers, such as Copernicus, Sir Isaac Newton, and Johannes Kepler, began to take notice. In his honor, a crater on the Moon was named Aristarchus.

2nd century BC , Focusing on the heliocentric universe theory posed by Aristarchus, Seleucus of Seleucia falls in line with the belief, but offers the phenomemon of tides to help explain the reasoning behind the viewpoint. While Seleucus was a Babylonian astronomer and philosopher, he was very much in favor of the traditions of Greek astronomy. He is known as one of the first people to use specific reasoning for his explanation of the heliocentric universe. Evidence of how he attempted to prove his arguments has not been uncovered.

The Greek geographer Strabo cited Seleucus as the first person to assume the universe was infinite. Sadly, none of his original writings or Greek translations has survived. The only piece of his work that researchers are able to examine comes from an Arabic translation, which was used as a reference by a Persian philosopher.