Episodes From The Early History Of Astronomy

Paperback | June 26, 2001

byAsger Aaboe

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The author does not attempt to give a general survey of early astronomy; rather, he chooses to present a few "episodes" and treats them in detail. However, first he provides the necessary astronomical background in his descriptive account of what you can see when you look at the sky with the naked eye, unblinkered by received knowledge, but with curiosity and wit. Chapter 1 deals with the arithmetical astronomy of ancient Mesopotamia where astronomy first was made an exact science. Next are treated Greek geometrical models for planetary motion, culminating in Ptolemy's equant models in his Almagest. Ptolemy does not assign them absolute size in this work, but, as is shown here, if we scale the models properly, they will yield good values, not only of the directions to the planets, but of the distances to them, as well. Thus one can immediately find the dimensions of the Copernican System from parameters in the Almagest - we have evidence that Copernicus did just that. Further, Islamic astronomers' modifications of Ptolemy's models by devices using only uniform circular motion are discussed, as are Copernicus's adoption of some of them. finally, it is made precise which bothersome problem was resolved by the heliocentric hypothesis, as it was by the Tychonic arrangement.Next, the Ptolemaic System, the first cosmological scheme to incorporate quantitative models, is described as Ptolemy himself did it in a recenlty recovered passage from his Planetary Hypotheses. Here he does assign absolute size to his models in order to fit them into the snugly nested spherical shells that made up his universe. This much maligned system was, in fact, a harmonious construct that remained the basis for how educated people thought of their world for a millennium and a half.Finally, after a brief review of the geometry of the ellipse, the author gives an elementary derivation of Kepler's equation, and shows how Kepler solved it, and further proves that a planet moves very nearly uniformly around the empty focus of its orbit. Thus an eccentric circular orbit with the empty "focus" as the equant point gives a good approximation to Kepler motions. The result of combining two such motions is then shown to be close to Ptolemy's planetary model.This book provides a fascinating look at the night sky and the techniques that early civilizations, particularly Babylonian and Greek, used to model planetary motions¿Aaboe does a masterful job of covering a wide array of intriguing topics in a relatively short book, and any effort expended on reading it will be well rewarded¿ talented students at the high school age and college students who are interested in these topics would likely find this book very enjoyable and enriching¿Overall, the book is fascinating to read for several reasons, including its observational astronomical viewpoint, its rich historical and cultural content, and, of course, its exposition and explanation of ancient techniques of celestial predictions and modeling.?MAA ONLINE

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From the Publisher

The author does not attempt to give a general survey of early astronomy; rather, he chooses to present a few "episodes" and treats them in detail. However, first he provides the necessary astronomical background in his descriptive account of what you can see when you look at the sky with the naked eye, unblinkered by received knowledg...

Format:PaperbackDimensions:187 pages, 9.25 × 6.1 × 0.27 inPublished:June 26, 2001Publisher:Springer New YorkLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0387951369

ISBN - 13:9780387951362

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Table of Contents

Chapter 0: What Every Young Person Ought To Know About Naked-Eye Astronomy; Chapter 1: Babylonian Arithmetical Astronomy; Chapter 2: Greek Geometrical Planetary Models; Chapter 3: Ptolymy's Cosmology; Chapter 4: Kepler Motion Viewed From Either Focus; Selected Bibliography

Editorial Reviews

From the reviews:This book provides a fascinating look at the night sky and the techniques that early civilizations, particularly Babylonian and Greek, used to model planetary motions.Aaboe does a masterful job of covering a wide array of intriguing topics in a relatively short book, and any effort expended on reading it will be well rewarded. talented students at the high school age and college students who are interested in these topics would likely find this book very enjoyable and enriching.Overall, the book is fascinating to read for several reasons, including its observational astronomical viewpoint, its rich historical and cultural content, and, of course, its exposition and explanation of ancient techniques of celestial predictions and modeling.MAA ONLINE"The distinguished scholar and teacher Asger Aaboe has now presented us with a historical and mathematical introduction to early astronomy . . he provides the clearest presentation I have ever seen . . Aaboe's strength lies in the clear and uncompromising mathematical elaboration of the geometrical models involved ... . this is an ideal book for those of us who want a clear introduction to early astronomical concepts, and for our students." (Stephen C. McCluskey, British Society for the History of Science, 2005)"This nice little booklet is a companion volume to the author's Episodes from the early history of mathematics . . It presents a general introduction to naked-eye astronomy as well as descriptions of the main characteristics of the planetary models that were in use up to the time of Kepler. . The book under review is a very handy introduction to early astronomy for any reader with some background in mathematics. It contains various beautiful illustrations and the hand-drawn figures are nearly always clear." (Benno van Dalen, Mathematical Reviews, Issue 2003 i)"It is not wholly like an academic work, nor an introduction to cosmology nor a scientific report. Yet Aaboe combines elements of all three. . Aaboe actually is a good writer. . this is an exhaustively comprehensive coverage of the kinematics of naked eye planets and the evolution of the Western calendar . . I would keep it in my bookshelf next to other chronicles of astronomy." (Bart Connolly, Astronomy & Space, April, 2003)"This book is a popular outline of the classic standard works written by Neugebauer, Swerdlow, Goldstein, Pedersen, and others. . Using only elementary mathematics and geometry, this book may thus be read by everyone interested in the history of celestial mechanics. It may be highly recommended for teachers in mathematics and physics or for introductory courses in positional astronomy, as well." (ORION, Vol. 61 (314), 2003)"This Book is in no way just a familiar journey in a time machine: my interest was riveted by the author's elucidation of the some of the background to the first great scientific revolution. He begins with a very useful pedagogic Chapter . . Altogether, an enjoyable, scholarly work . ." (Leon Mestel, The Observatory, Vol. 122 (1167), 2002)"The author deals with various aspects of ancient astronomy . . Aaboe considers the mathematics behind these ideas . . it will prove a valuable book, and even the non-specialist may find it worth a dip into." (Jeffrey Barham, Popular Astronomy, Vol. 49 (1), 2002)"Aaboe does a masterful job of covering a wide array of intriguing topics in a relatively short book, and any effort expended on reading it will be well rewarded. . a great book for independent reading for a motivated student who has a strong grasp of geometry and an interest in observational astronomy and its history. In particular, talented students at the high school age and college students who are interested in these topics would likely find this book very enjoyable and enriching." (Tom Brennan, MAA Online, October, 2002)"The book begins with an introductory description . of the principal phenomena of naked eye astronomy necessary to understand what follows. . In short, Aaboe's book provides a clear, authoritative, and frequently original introduction to the principal elements of mathematical planetary theory before Newton, which experts will find rewarding and novices accessible. It deserves and will repay a wider audience . ." (John P. Britton, Aestimatio, Issue 3, 2007)