Astronomy in ancient Greece

Astronomy in ancient Greece

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In Greece, what we now know as Western astronomy began to develop.

In the early days of the history of Greece it was considered that the earth was a disk in whose center was Olympus and around it the Okeanos, the universal sea. The astronomical observations were primarily intended to serve as a guide for farmers, so they worked hard to design a calendar that would be useful for these activities.

Homer's Odyssey already refers to constellations such as the Big Dipper and Orion, and describes how stars can guide navigation. The work "The works and the days" of Hesiod informs about the constellations that leave before dawn at different times of the year, to indicate the opportune moment to plow, sow and gather.

The most important Greek scientific contributions are associated with the names of the philosophers Thales of Miletus and Pythagoras, but none of his writings are preserved. The legend that Thales predicted a total solar eclipse on May 28, 585 B.C., appears to be apocryphal.

Around 450 B.C., the Greeks began a fruitful study of planetary movements. Filolao (5th century BC), a disciple of Pythagoras, believed that the Earth, the Sun, the Moon and the planets all revolved around a central fire hidden by an interposed 'counter-earth'. According to his theory, the revolution of the Earth around the fire every 24 hours explained the daily movements of the Sun and the stars.

The most original of the ancient observers of the heavens was another Greek, Aristarchus of Samos. He believed that celestial movements could be explained by the hypothesis that the Earth rotates on its axis once every 24 hours and that together with the other planets revolves around the Sun.

This explanation was rejected by most Greek philosophers who regarded the Earth as a motionless globe around which the light celestial objects revolve. This theory, known as the geocentric system, remained unchanged for 2,000 years. Its bases were:
- The Planets, the Sun, the Moon and the Stars move in perfect circular orbits.
-The speed of the Planets, the Sun, the Moon and the stars are perfectly uniform.
-The Earth is at the exact center of the movement of the celestial bodies.

Under these principles Eudoxus (408-355 BC) was the first to conceive of the universe as a set of 27 concentric spheres that surround the earth, which in turn was also a sphere. Plato and one of his most advanced Aristotle students (384-322 B.C.) maintained the system devised by Eudoxus adding no less than fifty-five spheres in whose center was the motionless Earth.

But the center of intellectual and scientific life moved from Athens to Alexandria, a city founded in Egypt by Alexander the Great and modeled after the Greek ideal.

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Classical astronomyAstronomy in Alexandria


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