People have wondered about outer space since our earliest ancestors looked into the night sky and observed the stars for the first time.
Since then, we have discovered planets, stars, comets, and a host of other phenomena that the earliest men could never have dreamed of. But how did we do that? Why, science, of course! Mayans, Babylonians, and Greeks, among others, have all observed the sky. They noted the objects in their skies, jotted observations, made calculations, and night by night, century by century, human ind expanded their knowledge of the universe.
The Earliest Scientists
For most of their lives, many of the earliest humans couldn’t understand concepts like “outer space” or “the universe.” To the, the night sky was a scary place. Full of gods and demons, ready to bring harm and destruction to anyone unable or unwilling to bow to their whims and worship them.
But not everyone held those views. The curious among the ancient people, the very first scientists, had questions and ideas about what was really out there among the twinkling lights above their heads. Some believed there was a large canopy that covered the sky at night, and that starlight was simply light coming through tiny holes in this covering in the sky.
Others believed the stars were living entities, naming constellations which to them looked like animals and warriors and other objects they were familiar with. But it wasn’t long before someone devised a better way to get a look at what’s out there and changed the way people thought about the vast darkness surrounding them. They used the stars to devise calendars, and to keep track of seasons, and for navigating from place to place. But soon, these early astronomers would find more questions, and demand more answers about space.
A Revolution of Thought
For many years, people believed the Earth itself was the center of the universe. But one man, named Copernicus, had a revolutionary thought: the Earth was not the center of the solar system; Rather, it was the sun- and the Earth revolved around it.
People were skeptical, of course, but Galileo Galilei thought Copernicus was onto something. Galileo agreed with him, and championed the heliocentric universe theory. He and Johannes Kepler made their own observations, worked out formulas and calculations, made corrections to the original theory, and worked hard to prove Copernicus was correct.
Galileo used some of the earliest telescopes to get a closer look at the heavens, and Kepler devised a way of predicting the movements of the stars and planets based on the heliocentric theory. Our knowledge was expanding, and new technologies, along with advancements in mathematics, allowed these men to make better and more accurate predictions about the nature of outer space.
New Ways to Observe
Developments like the reflecting telescope, the spectroscope, and the camera provided science with even more ways to observe the night sky and afforded these early scientific pioneers with tools they could use to further expand human-kind’s knowledge of the universe.
Astronomers made even better predictions about the movements of the moon and stars, got better looks and the objects they were studying, and worked diligently to gain further insight into the nature of space and how Earth, and people, fit into it.
They discovered The Milky Way. They discovered quasars and pulsars. They worked out the Big Bang theory and the constant expansion of the universe. Cosmic radiation, black holes, neutron stars… all exciting discoveries that men and women have worked hard to discover in the vast blackness of space.
Technology kept improving too; New telescopes and new ways to observe were constantly being developed, allowing people to see more than the earliest observers could have using only their naked eyes.
Still Looking at the Sky
For all science has discovered about the stars and planets surrounding us, there is still more out there to discover. Human curiosity knows no bounds, and for each question answered, another question comes to light.
Are we alone in the universe? Is the theory of a fine-tuned universe valid? High energy cosmic rays? The ultimate fate of the universe? All these things mankind is striving to learn as they observe and calculate and work toward expanding our knowledge.
Maybe you, or your children or grand-children will answer these questions, and set in motion the next advancement in the scientific knowledge of human-kind. And then, what questions will we seek the answers to? I can hardly wait to find out.