Astronomy’s Great Astronomers

Throughout the centuries, a number of famous astronomers have made great contributions to the science of astronomy. Without the efforts of such great astronomers as Ptolemy, Galileo and Isaac Newton, we would not know nearly as much about the planets and stars as we do today.

Today, people often take for granted the amount of information scientists have gathered about our planet, the solar system and other galaxies. However, people weren’t always so lucky. Before the invention of the telescope, people could only observe the stars with their naked eyes. Early astronomy focused on following the paths of heavenly objects in order to determine seasons.

As civilizations progressed and developed around the world, society became more and more interested in uncovering the mysteries of the heavens. A number of countries, including China, India, Greece and Egypt, created observatories in which scientists could map the locations of planets and stars. From these early observations, people developed the geocentric model of the universe, a model in which the Earth was believed to be at the center of the universe.

Astronomy made great strides during the scientific revolution, a time period in which Copernicus, Galileo, Isaac Newton and others studied. These men made great contributions to the science of astronomy, developing new technology for studying the stars and planets.

In this section, we’ll offer information on some of the most famous astronomers. Our articles provide biographical information for each, highlighting the contributions each made to astronomy.

Little is known about the biographical details of Ptolemy, whose given name was Claudius Ptolemaeus. While many researchers believe Ptolemy was Greek, others assume that he was actually born in Greece.

What we do know about Ptolemy is that he wrote several scientific dissertations, three of which contributed greatly to Islamic and European science. “Almagest” (“The Great Treatise”), “Geography” and “Tetrabiblos” (“Four Books”) were all written by Ptolemy.

Copernicus was born on Feb. 19, 1473, in Poland. He was the first astronomer to put forth the theory that the Earth was not the center of the universe. This theory, discussed in his book “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres,” stimulated scientific investigation and is often referred to as the starting point of the Scientific Revolution.

Interestingly, Copernicus was a physician, a Catholic cleric, a governor, a military leader and more. Astronomy was simply a hobby for Copernicus.

Galileo Galilei was born in Italy on Feb. 15, 1564. During his life, Galileo made a number of contributions to the science of astronomy, including advancing the telescope. Galileo, the first to conduct systematic studies of uniformly accelerated motion, also discovered the four largest satellites of Jupiter.

The phrases “the father of modern observational astronomy,” “the father of science” and the “father of modern physics” have all been used to describe Galileo.

Isaac Newton was born on Jan. 4, 1643 in England. Newton advanced the Scientific Revolution with his “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy” that described the three laws of motion and universal gravitation. Newton was the first to use the Latin term gravitas(weight) to describe the force of gravity.

The refracting telescope was invented by Isaac Newton.

Edmund Halley was born in England on Nov. 8, 1656. Considered to be a leading astronomer during his time, Halley published papers on solar systems, sunspots, trade winds and monsoons.

Interestingly, Halley is responsible for convincing Isaac Newton to publish his “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.” In fact, Halley financed the publication of the study.

Halley’s Comet, the Halley Crater on Mars and the Halley Crater on the moon are all named after Edmund Halley.

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