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Who is it that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? . . . Where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements -' surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?The Book of Job 38:2–7
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle.
Walt Whitman, Miracles
What did we know about the universe and when did we know it?
What does astronomy mean and who invented it?
Who was the first astronomer?
Did Aristotle start the crystal craze?
Did anyone challenge Aristotle?
How did the Greeks get so smart?
Were the pyramids built by extraterrestrials?
Did the night sky look different in ancient times?
Is the Big Dipper a constellation?
Does cosmology have anything to do with a makeup kit?
What does an old pile of rocks in England have to do
with the universe?
What does astrology have to do with astronomy?
Why did St. Augustine give astrology such a bad name?
Did Hitler's astrologers get his horoscope wrong?
Was the biblical “Star of Bethlehem” anidentifiable astronomical event like Halley's comet?
Who was Ptolemy and what did he have to do with “one thousand points of light”?
Why did Martin Luther call Copernicus a “fool”?
How did a sixteenth- century party animal who lost his nose in a duel change astronomy?
Who discovered how the planets move?
Who pierced Giordano Bruno's tongue?
Why was Galileo the “Al Gore” of the Renaissance, or, Who really invented the telescope?
Why did the Vatican arrest Galileo?
Did Newton's apple really fall?
Remember Y2K? It seemed so important then, as we waited for the personal-computer Armageddon. Then came the election of 2000, the race that had us all wondering, “How come we can put a man on the Moon but can't count votes?” Perhaps, somewhere down the road, the remarkably close presidential contest of 2000 will loom large on the historical record. On the other hand, it could well turn out to be a historical footnote that will end up as a presidential trivia question on a future edition of Jeopardy.
So what did really matter in the year 2000? Maybe a child was born who might change the world as profoundly as Galileo, Newton, or even Hitler once did. Or, in a laboratory somewhere, an anonymous researcher had begun to unleash the secrets of Alzheimer's disease or the common cold.
Thinking along this same vein, take a look back at 1879, an otherwise unremarkable year. The European newspapers of the day probably gave substantial ink to the political machinations of Germany's chancellor Bismarck. Perhaps the odd experiments of a Russian scientist named Pavlov with a dog and a bell attracted some notice. And, certainly, the tinkering of a young man named Edison with some bits of filament and electrical wires must have drawn some interest among forward-thinking investors. But it is very unlikely that anyone besides his family took note of the birth on March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Germany of a boy named Albert. It isn't hard to argue that Einstein's birth was one of the most important things that happened that year. So much for the big moments in history as recorded by the media.
So what will they say about November 2000? What notable event will future generations look back on and say “This was where it all began”?
What if it turned out to be the first operations of the International Space Station, the orbiting laboratory, which opened for business even as presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore were battling down to the wire? Perhaps for future generations, living and working routinely in orbit or in some far-flung space colony, this largely overlooked event may become the next millennium's equivalent of Columbus Day -' a holiday that marks the beginning of a profound new era in human history.
If that scenario plays out, future historians may look back on the early years of the twenty-first century and ridicule the primitive equipment our astronauts on the International Space Station were using. They may marvel at how these “pioneers” were able to accomplish anything with such “crude” devices. Which is exactly how we look back at the remarkable discoveries of the past.
This opening section offers a look at the “history” of space -' or, more accurately, reviews how humans have progressed in understanding the universe and our place in it. It shows how, over the centuries, people used reason and observation and eventually, a few crude inventions to figure out the universe and its workings. It shows how thinking about space and the universe went from superstition to myth to religion and, finally, to science. How people from the earliest days of civilization, staring at the seemingly uncountable stars, began to order the heavens. And how we moved, in a brief instant of cosmic time, from seeing the heavens as celestial pictures of bears, crabs, and archers, to comprehending the basic laws that govern the universe.
It is a remarkable story of human achievement and imagination. And much of this history is concerned with people who dared to question accepted wisdom -' even when asking questions posed some danger. This is also the history of superstition and faith -' which are different ways to describe things that science can't know for certain. We often take what we know for granted. But it was the work of many geniuses, sometimes working alone, sometimes working in remarkable groups, who have brought us to where we are at the beginning of the Third Millennium. And throughout this historical overview, the focus is on the “human face” of astronomy, especially in profiling some of the giants of science who profoundly changed the way we see the world.Don't Know Much About the Universe. Copyright © by Kenneth Davis. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.