Space Science and Astronomy Through Time

Space science and astronomy are among the oldest sciences. Celestial bodies, especially stars, planets, moons and asteroids were observed and studied by the oldest known civilisation including Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Chinese, Greek and Maya in Mesoamerica, to mention just a few. And some of these civilisations have developed an incredibly advanced knowledge about a number of space phenomena. However, modern space science and astronomy began to emerge only after the invention of telescope in the 17th century.

Before the Rise of Modern Discipline, Astronomy was ‘Applied Astrology’

Today, space science and astronomy are concerned exclusively with the study of celestial objects, processes and phenomena in the Solar System and elsewhere in the universe. Before the rise of modern discipline, however, astronomy was considered ‘applied astrology’ and served for astrological uses such as horoscopes. It was only after the invention of telescope in the 17th century and the emergence of modern scientific thought when astronomy started to be viewed as scientific discipline requiring the use of scientific methods.

The ‘Renaissance’ of Astronomy

The Renaissance, a period between the 14th and 17th century that started as a cultural movement in Italy turned out to have sparked the interest in scientific method in a number of fields including astronomy. Indeed, it was during the period of Renaissance when the famous mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) proposed the heliocentric model, replacing the Earth with the Sun in the centre of the universe. However, it was only his successors including Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) and in particular Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) who not only embraced but also further developed Copernicus’ work. Galileo also went on to develop what came to be known as the Galilean telescope with which he discovered the Jupiter’s Galilean moons.

Emergence of Modern Astronomy and Space Science

The period following the early 17th century was marked by a rapid progress of both astronomy and space science, giving rise to modern discipline which, however, split into observational and theoretical astronomy in the 20th century. Though separated, the two fields nevertheless remained closely connected. But despite the progress of space science and astronomy, the emergence of new fields including aerospace engineering and physical exploration of space, the 20th century was also marked by a widespread popularisation of amateur astronomy which has made several important contributions to astronomy.