Blog Post 3: Considering Instruments

One of the main ideas of this course is: how science evolves based on communication of ideas.

This is exactly what Penelope Gouk says in the introduction of her paper. She highlights the important “role that geographies play in the fostering of creativity and innovation in human systems at both the social and cognitive levels” (Gouk 257).

Instruments is an umbrella term for many different types of tools that are employed for some form of work or labor. It would be rather laborious to examine all the different types of instruments that have existed in the past or exist today. Instead I will look at a subset of instruments that aid ancient and present-day astronomers. Astronomers collaborated and shared thoughts as they built instruments based off of previous research and findings. Thus the communication of knowledge led to the evolution of science, namely the creation of astronomical instruments.

One of the earliest astronomical instruments was created in nearby Stonehenge, where archeoastronomers believe natives around 2400 BC strategically placed stones such that “the main axis of the monument faces the horizon where the Sun rises midsummer morning, the longest day of the year” (Windows to the Universe). Modern-day astronomers see that the sun rises to just the left of the Heel stone, where there is a marking to show the rise of the sun.


On the left is a picture of a sun rise behind Stonehenge. Image courtesy of Windows of the Universe





Moving forward in time, in about 500 AD, the astronomer Aryabhata hailing from central India, built off of the ideas of a ancient sundial and documented the movement of the Sun. From these findings he “presented a mathematical system that took the earth to spin on its axis and considered the motions of the planets with respect to the sun (in other words it was heliocentric). His book, the Aryabhatya, presented astronomical and mathematical theories in which the Earth was taken to be spinning on its axis and the periods of the planets were given with respect to the sun” (Crystalinks).


On the left is a depiction of the ancient astronomer, Aryabhata, courtesy of Crystalinks.








The ideas of Aryabhata were recorded in the Aryabhatya and spread across India and went west along the trading routes of the Persian Empire. In the Museum of the History of Science I saw astrolabes and sundials based in the 1300s from places along the Arabic trading routes such as Turkey.


On the left is a Turkish astrolabe from the Museum of History of Science in Oxford.








Eventually this idea of a heliocentric universe was becoming more and more intriguing for astronomers in Europe despite it going against the fundamental tenets of old clerical education that said the Earth was at the center of the universe (a geocentric system). Although the idea of a heliocentric universe was proposed well before the likes of Copernicus and Galileo, it was revived by Copernicus in his “major work ‘De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium’ (‘On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres’) which was finished by 1530. Its central theory was that the Earth rotates daily on its axis and revolves yearly around the sun. He also argued that the planets circled the Sun” (BBC Copernicus).

Galileo carried on with Copernicus’ ideas of a heliocentric universe and published them in the “Starry Messenger” in 1610. But this pamphlet was deemed blasphemous and against the Church. As a result, Galileo was placed on house arrest in Florence, where I had visited a couple of weeks back.

Galileo house

This is a picture of Galileo’s house in Firenze or Florence, where he was put under house arrest. Picture courtesy of Universidad de Navarra.





Galileo is also credited with substantial improvements to the telescope, with which he made key observations and noted significant evidence that supports the heliocentric theory. Over time, Galileo’s telescopes were improved and added to. Coming to modern day, scientists have created the Hubble Space Telescope. It is an unprecedented “telescope that orbits Earth. Its position above the atmosphere, which distorts and blocks the light that reaches our planet, gives it a view of the universe that typically far surpasses that of ground-based telescopes” (Hubble). The Hubble, along with other telescopes, has given us information about solar systems beyond our own and perhaps could point to signs of life beyond those on Earth.


On the left is a picture of the Hubble Space Telescope as it orbits the world. Picture courtesy of HubbleSite





It is astonishing to see how astronomy has progressed from the aligning the stones of Stonehenge to seeing the stars outside our solar system. This evolution can be attributed to the spread and flow of knowledge and ideas.

Works Cited:

BBC Copernicus:



Universidad de Navarra:

Windows to the Universe:


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