Sunday, February 17, 2008

The prelude for Modern Astronomy

The “Dark Ages” weren’t dark everywhere, and astronomy didn’t exactly wither and die after Ptolemy. Outside of Europe, there were some exciting discoveries being made. The Indian astronomer Aryabh¯atta (born ca. 476) held that the earth was a rotating globe, and he correctly explained the causes of eclipses.

The Maya in particular created a complex calendar, prepared planetary tables, and closely studied Venus, basing much of their system of timekeeping on its movements. In Europe, however, astronomy was no longer so much studied as it was taught. Much Medieval learning discouraged direct observation in favor of poring over texts of recorded and accepted wisdom. Despite the work of Bishop Isidorus of Seville (570), who drew a sharp distinction between astronomy and astrology, medieval astronomy was mired in the superstition, which has its apologists and practitioners to this very day. But this chapter says little about astronomy’s “Dark Ages” and turns, instead, to its rebirth in the Renaissance.

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