Modern Astronomy: Expanding the Universe (Milestones in Discovery and Invention)

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Indian mathematician-astronomer Aryabhata , in his Aryabhatiya first identifies the force gravity to explain why objects do not fall when the Earth rotates, [7] propounds a geocentric Solar System of gravitation , and an eccentric elliptical model of the planets, where the planets spin on their axis and follow elliptical orbits, the Sun and the Moon revolve around the Earth in epicycles. He also writes that the planets and the Moon do not have their own light but reflect the light of the Sun, and that the Earth rotates on its axis causing day and night and also that the Sun rotates around the Earth causing years.

Indian mathematician-astronomer Brahmagupta , in his Brahma-Sphuta-Siddhanta , first recognizes gravity as a force of attraction, and briefly describes the second law of Newton's law of universal gravitation. He gives methods for calculations of the motions and places of various planets, their rising and setting, conjunctions, and calculations of the solar and lunar eclipses. The Sanskrit works of Aryabhata and Brahmagupta , along with the Sanskrit text Surya Siddhanta , are translated into Arabic , introducing Arabic astronomers to Indian astronomy.

The first major Arabic work of astronomy is the Zij al-Sindh by al-Khwarizimi. The work contains tables for the movements of the Sun, the Moon, and the five planets known at the time. The work is significant as it introduced Ptolemaic concepts into Islamic sciences.

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This work also marks the turning point in Arabic astronomy. Hitherto, Arabic astronomers had adopted a primarily research approach to the field, translating works of others and learning already discovered knowledge. Al-Khwarizmi's work marked the beginning of nontraditional methods of study and calculations. The book primarily gave a summary of Ptolemic cosmography. However, it also corrected Ptolemy based on findings of earlier Arab astronomers. Al-Farghani gave revised values for the obliquity of the ecliptic, the precessional movement of the apogees of the Sun and the Moon, and the circumference of the Earth.

The books were widely circulated through the Muslim world, and even translated into Latin.

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The earliest surviving astrolabe is constructed by Islamic mathematician — astronomer Mohammad al-Fazari. Astrolabes are the most advanced instruments of their time. The precise measurement of the positions of stars and planets allows Islamic astronomers to compile the most detailed almanacs and star atlases yet. Biruni stated that the followers of Aryabhata consider the Earth to be at the center.


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In fact, Biruni casually stated that this does not create any mathematical problems. Chinese astronomers record the sudden appearance of a bright star. Native-American rock carvings also show the brilliant star close to the Moon. This star is the Crab supernova exploding. Abu Ubayd al-Juzjani published the Tarik al-Aflak.

In his work, he indicated the so-called " equant " problem of the Ptolemic model. Al-Juzjani even proposed a solution for the problem. In al-Andalus , the anonymous work al-Istidrak ala Batlamyus meaning "Recapitulation regarding Ptolemy" , included a list of objections to the Ptolemic astronomy.

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In this, the author summed up the inconsistencies of the Ptolemic models. Many astronomers took up the challenge posed in this work, namely to develop alternate models that evaded such errors. He also calculates the planetary mean motion , ellipses, first visibilities of the planets, the lunar crescent, the seasons, and the length of the Earth's revolution around the Sun to 9 decimal places. Mo'ayyeduddin Urdi develops the Urdi lemma, which is later used in the Copernican heliocentric model.

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Nasir al-Din al-Tusi resolved significant problems in the Ptolemaic system by developing the Tusi-couple as an alternative to the physically problematic equant introduced by Ptolemy. Tusi's student Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi , in his The Limit of Accomplishment concerning Knowledge of the Heavens , discusses the possibility of heliocentrism. Najm al-Din al-Qazwini al-Katibi , who also worked at the Maraghah observatory, in his Hikmat al-'Ain , wrote an argument for a heliocentric model, though he later abandoned the idea.

Ibn al-Shatir — , in his A Final Inquiry Concerning the Rectification of Planetary Theory , eliminated the need for an equant by introducing an extra epicycle, departing from the Ptolemaic system in a way very similar to what Copernicus later also did. Ibn al-Shatir proposed a system that was only approximately geocentric, rather than exactly so, having demonstrated trigonometrically that the Earth was not the exact center of the universe. His rectification is later used in the Copernican model. Nicolaus Copernicus publishes De revolutionibus orbium coelestium containing his theory that Earth travels around the Sun.

However, he complicates his theory by retaining Plato's perfect circular orbits of the planets. A brilliant supernova SN - thought, at the time, to be a comet is observed by Tycho Brahe , who proves that it is traveling beyond Earth's atmosphere and therefore provides the first evidence that the heavens can change. Dutch eyeglass maker Hans Lippershey tries to patent a refracting telescope the first historical record of one. The invention spreads rapidly across Europe, as scientists make their own instruments. Their discoveries begin a revolution in astronomy. Johannes Kepler publishes his New Astronomy.

In this and later works, he announces his three laws of planetary motion , replacing the circular orbits of Plato with elliptical ones. Almanacs based on his laws prove to be highly accurate. Galileo Galilei publishes Sidereus Nuncius describing the findings of his observations with the telescope he built.

These include spots on the Sun, craters on the Moon, and four satellites of Jupiter. Proving that not everything orbits Earth, he promotes the Copernican view of a Sun-centered universe. As the power and the quality of the telescopes increase, Christiaan Huygens studies Saturn and discovers its largest satellite, Titan.

He also explains Saturn's appearance, suggesting the planet is surrounded by a thin ring. Scottish astronomer James Gregory describes his " gregorian " reflecting telescope , using parabolic mirrors instead of lenses to reduce chromatic aberration and spherical aberration , but is unable to build one. Isaac Newton builds the first reflecting telescope , his Newtonian telescope. Isaac Newton publishes his first copy of the book Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica , establishing the theory of gravitation and laws of motion. The Principia explains Kepler's laws of planetary motion and allows astronomers to understand the forces acting between the Sun, the planets, and their moons.

Edmond Halley calculates that the comets recorded at year intervals from to are one and the same. He predicts that the comet will return again in When it reappears as expected, the comet is named in his honor. French astronomer Nicolas de Lacaille sails to southern oceans and begins work compiling a catalog of more than stars in the southern sky. Although Halley and others have observed from the Southern Hemisphere before, Lacaille's star catalog is the first comprehensive one of the southern sky.

Amateur astronomer William Herschel discovers the planet Uranus, although he at first mistakes it for a comet. Uranus is the first planet to be discovered beyond Saturn, which was thought to be the most distant planet in ancient times. Charles Messier publishes his catalog of star clusters and nebulas. Messier draws up the list to prevent these objects from being identified as comets. However, it soon becomes a standard reference for the study of star clusters and nebulars and is still in use today. William Herschel splits sunlight through a prism and with a thermometer, measures the energy given out by different colours.


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He notices a sudden increase in energy beyond the red end of the spectrum , discovering invisible infrared and laying the foundations of spectroscopy. Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi discovers what appears to be a new planet orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, and names it Ceres. He proposes the name asteroid, and soon other similar bodies are being found. Joseph von Fraunhofer builds the first accurate spectrometer and uses it to study the spectrum of the Sun's light. He discovers and maps hundreds of fine dark lines crossing the solar spectrum.

In these lines are linked to chemical elements in the Sun's atmosphere. Spectroscopy becomes a method for studying what stars are made of.

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Friedrich Bessel successfully uses the method of stellar parallax, the effect of Earth's annual movement around the Sun, to calculate the distance to 61 Cygni , the first star other than the Sun to have its distance from Earth measured. Bessel's is a truly accurate measurement of stellar positions, and the parallax technique establishes a framework for measuring the scale of the universe. German Amateur astronomer Heinrich Schwabe , who has been studying the Sun for the past 17 years, announces his discovery of a regular cycle in sunspot numbers - the first clue to the Sun's internal structure.


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Irish astronomer William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse completes the first of the world's great telescopes , with a cm mirror. He uses it to study and draw the structure of nebulas, and within a few months discovers the spiral structure of the Whirlpool Galaxy. French physicists Jean Foucault and Armand Fizeau take the first detailed photographs of the Sun's surface through a telescope - the birth of scientific astrophotography.

Within five years, astronomers produce the first detailed photographs of the Moon. Early film is not sensitive enough to image stars. Le Verrier has calculated the position and size of the planet from the effects of its gravitational pull on the orbit of Uranus. An English mathematician, John Couch Adams , also made a similar calculation a year earlier. Astronomers notice a new bright emission line in the spectrum of the Sun's atmosphere during an eclipse. The emission line is caused by an element's giving out light, and British astronomer Norman Lockyer concludes that it is an element unknown on Earth.

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He calls it helium , from the Greek word for the Sun. Nearly 30 years later, helium is found on Earth. An American astronomer Henry Draper takes the first photograph of the spectrum of a star Vega , showing absorption lines that reveal its chemical makeup.

Astronomers begin to see that spectroscopy is the key to understanding how stars evolve. William Huggins uses absorption lines to measure the redshifts of stars, which give the first indication of how fast stars are moving. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky publishes his first article on the possibility of space flight.

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His greatest discovery is that a rocket, unlike other forms of propulsion, will work in a vacuum. He also outlines the principle of a multistage launch vehicle. A comprehensive survey of stars, the Henry Draper Catalogue , is published.