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The Dabbled Derivation of Astronomy

Updated on March 24, 2013
A replica of Newton's second reflecting telescope that he presented to the Royal Society in 1672
A replica of Newton's second reflecting telescope that he presented to the Royal Society in 1672 | Source
The largest telescope of the 19th century, the Leviathan of Parsonstown.
The largest telescope of the 19th century, the Leviathan of Parsonstown. | Source

Most of who have dabbled in astronomy, whether from books, documentaries or hands on study are familiar with Galileo, Copernicus, Newton and the western understanding of it. However, there were many others who made notable contributions to this understanding, some of who were dabblers themselves.

Before the 20th Century, the Milky Way Galaxy was widely thought to contain all the stars in the Universe or, in other words, it was thought that our galaxy was the Universe. German philosopher Immanuel Kant dabbled in astronomy and was among the first Westerners to suggest in 1755 that our galaxy was just one of many. Kant’s suspicion spurred deeper scrutiny into the heavens and led to the discovery of over 2,400 clouds which were then called nebula by William Herschel. By the time Herschel discovered nebulas, he was a seasoned astronomer, but as a young adult, he was a musician and the astronomy dabbler who discovered Uranus.

In 1845, William Parsons, the Earl of Rosse, Ireland and a dabbler in astronomy erected an enormous telescope and set his sights on Herschel’s “nebula”. He noticed that some exhibited spiral structures. For the better part of a century after Parson’s discovery, it was hotly debated whether these spirals were nearby objects or distant galaxies. In 1923 Edwin Hubble confirmed that the nebula object M31 which is now known as the Andromeda Galaxy was indeed very far away and indeed another galaxy. Since then backyard, amateur astronomers have made many discoveries.

In 2009, amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley from Australia witnessed something slam into Jupiter which was so large, it scarred the planet. Volunteers from all over the world assisted Yale University in the discovery of rare galaxies known as “green pea” galaxies. Co-discoverer of the Hale-Bopp comet, Thomas Bopp was by day a construction worker. Robert Evans, a retired minister holds the record for discovering the most supernovas. The list goes on and on, so don't think you have to go to college and become an astronomer to make great discoveries.

As modern dabblers are keenly aware of mainstream Western astronomy, we are also familiar with ancient structures all over the world aligned to constellations and monoliths which track the phases and movements of celestial bodies. Being an even bigger dabbler in history, I wanted to know who came before the Egyptians, the Mayans, the designers of Stonehenge and the Babylonians. Who were the first to dabble in astronomy?

Nabta Playa calendar in Aswan Nubia museum
Nabta Playa calendar in Aswan Nubia museum | Source

It didn’t take much digging to discover a monolithic circle at Nabta Playa in southern Egypt which is the oldest known astronomical observatory ever found. It is said to predate Stonehenge by at least one thousand years. The stones are arranged around sightlines which point to the rising sun on the summer solstice, various stars and constellations. Erecting these stones with such precision would have been a colossal undertaking in the ancient world which suggests an exorbitant and advanced knowledge of the heavens long before the plans were drafted. The stargazers of Nabta Playa were far from amateurish, so who were their predecessors?

Digging a little deeper I found that Cro-Magnon dabblers of what is now France during one of the great ice ages were dappling the ancient cosmos on cave walls as far back as 16,500 years ago, but they were far from the first. Aurignacian people of Stone Age Europe were carving lunar calendars and constellation maps into mammoth tusks and cave walls 38,000 years ago. The carvings are alleged to have been used for tracking seasons and gestation periods. Not much is known about the Aurignacians. They are believed to have replaced the Neanderthals in what is now France and Germany. I guess this would make astronomy as old as the age of man itself. Dabble on dabblers; it’s in your DNA.

Ancient star chart carved in ivory mammoth tusk [Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies]
Ancient star chart carved in ivory mammoth tusk [Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies] | Source

Work Cited

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/Space/story?id=8221167&page=3

"Ancient Observatories." Stanford Solar Center. Web. 10 Jan. 2012. <http://solar-center.stanford.edu/AO/>.

"Discovering the Essential Universe, 4th Edition." , 9781429217972. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Jan. 2013.

"Space Today Online -- Solar System Planet Earth -- Ancient Astronomy." SPACE TODAY ONLINE - Space Today Online Covering Space from Earth to the Edge of the Universe. Web. 10 Jan. 2012. <http://www.spacetoday.org/SolSys/Earth/OldStarCharts.html>.

"The Oldest Lunar Calendars | NASA Lunar Science Institute." Home | NASA Lunar Science Institute. Web. 10 Jan. 2012. <http://lunarscience.nasa.gov/articles/oldest-lunar-calendars>.

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    • Rod Rainey profile imageAUTHOR

      RodneyBlaec Rainey 

      5 years ago from Louisville, KY

      Indeed, pinto2011. Thank You so much for reading.

    • Rod Rainey profile imageAUTHOR

      RodneyBlaec Rainey 

      5 years ago from Louisville, KY

      Thank You, Michelle Liew!

      Sometimes the ancients even baffle experts with the most advanced technology. Have you heard of Edward Leedskalnin's Coral Castle? Fascinating stuff, check it out. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coral_Castle

      Thanks again, have a great day.

    • pinto2011 profile image

      Subhas 

      5 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Hi Rod Rainey you have really treated this subject very well. You are quite right about its antecedents. Its root could be traced back to thousands of years ago with primitive instruments our ancestors used to peep out the sky.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      5 years ago from Singapore

      Astronomy is a really fascinating subject. Yes, it is so amazing that people managed to create such monolithic structures without the benefit of the technology we have today! Sharing!

    • Rod Rainey profile imageAUTHOR

      RodneyBlaec Rainey 

      5 years ago from Louisville, KY

      (chuckles) He also says he went on the Great Wall of China which with its length I can believe I guess, I mean where is there to go up there? (^o^) Thanks again for stopping through. Good evening.

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image

      Lurana Brown 

      5 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      Ha! I was there in 1997 and with a college group...I'd say it would have been possible if one was really sneaky and quick, because groups straggle around and it is huge. But security has gotten stricter everywhere so it depends. That sounds like an uncle story if I ever heard one though...:-D.

    • Rod Rainey profile imageAUTHOR

      RodneyBlaec Rainey 

      5 years ago from Louisville, KY

      I'll say you're lucky, (envious) that's awesome. My uncle has been to Egypt and claims to have taken a pee on the Great Pyramid. I call BS on it, but I've never been there; what do you think? Could he have gotten away with it?

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image

      Lurana Brown 

      5 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      Yes, I have seen those Easter Island photos! It's amazing that more than one "primitive" society was able to build heavy stone structures and we can't figure out how.

      I am really lucky to have visited Egypt (and saw the Giza pyramids, the Sphinx, and Luxor) and Macchu Picchu. There are ancient Incan ruins all over the place in Peru...just incredible. I would also love to see the Aztec sites and more.

    • Rod Rainey profile imageAUTHOR

      RodneyBlaec Rainey 

      5 years ago from Louisville, KY

      I share your frustration toward these documentaries; for their producers to solve “mysteries” or not create “mysteries” would be like the pharmaceutical industry actually curing a disease; it’s bad for business. I am also captivated with ancient sites as you. Reading about the impact of air travel on the environment has permanently sullied my desire to fly, but I might have to make an exception to see Machu Picchu, Tiwanaku, Pumapunku or Olmec sites. I would like to visit those in other parts of the world too, but I am most drawn to those in South America. Did you hear they’ve been excavating the bases of Easter Island heads? Check it!  http://www.news.com.au/travel/world/archaeological...

      Always a pleasure Mrs. Brown, Thank You for reading.

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image

      Lurana Brown 

      5 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      I've always been fascinated with ancient ruins, especially the ones that were built to study celestial bodies, because they are like a communication between civilizations across time. Unfortunately, almost all of the media I come across tends to be soft science and a bunch of "shrouded in mystery, will we ever know?" speculation. I once saw a show that implied that the Sphinx and the Giza pyramids were aligned with certain constellations something like 10,000 years ago (here's the story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orion_correlation_the... . There are extremely important clues about humanity's timeline in these grand monuments (Easter Island, etc. among them, plus mind-blowing ruins they are finding underwater lately). But between the weak science and my own conspiracy theories that all the proof gets swept under the carpet, I end up more frustrated than anything. I'm not a scientist myself so I'm depending on real scientists to study these fascinating subjects and write some respectable articles!

      Anyway, I greatly appreciate this history-based look at astronomy and your reflection that it is human nature to wonder about the stars. We need the dabblers.

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