Aboriginal Astronomy

- 03 Feb 2010

From the OSR Blog

Most people don’t realize how advanced aboriginal astronomy truly was. Although many cultures attributed religious aspects to the astral world, they understood many fundamental facts of the universe far earlier than most people want to admit. It may have been primitive but it was also very impressive.

Mayan Astronomy

Mayan astronomy was extremely advanced for its time. In fact, it was amazingly accurate, especially when accounting for their lack of modern technology. Astronomy was something reserved only for Mayan priests at the time. They were able to accurately measure the movements of the sun, moon, and Venus, using these findings to develop their calendars. Even their buildings reflected their understanding of astronomy as they were built so that the buildings and the rising sun could mark the summer and winter solstices. The Mayans paid special attention to the planet Venus as they believed it to be the companion of the sun. They also carefully monitored the moon’s cycles so they were even able to accurately predict eclipses.

Indian Astronomy

Indian aboriginals began their work into astronomy around 2000 B.C. An Indian astronomer decided to deify the sun, stars, and comets. In fact, Indian astronomy was extremely advanced for its time. For instance, they had already discovered that the sun and stars are actually the same, just different sizes. They had also realized that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the solar system. The Indians measured the earth as being 5000 Yojanas. When converted, that was actually quite close to the actual circumference.

Greek Astronomy

Greek astronomers were an entirely different animal. In ancient Greece, astronomers were known as people who “described the heavens” while physicists were the ones who actually dealt with the hard facts and tried to figure things out. At the time that astronomy was very popular to study, the spirit of astronomy was actually considered a branch of mathematics, not astronomy, because it deals with numbers and measurements and not just words. The Greeks considered the planets to be embodiments of their gods. For instance, the planet Jupiter was their great god Zeus. Planets moved because gods moved them. The sun rose and fell because a god rode around the earth and took it away. Around 500 BC, astronomy changed when Pythagoras deduced that the earth was a sphere and the moon orbited it. Greek astronomy advanced from there.

Plato and Astronomy

When Plato came around with his theory that all planets had circular orbits, he challenged his students and peers to answer the question of whether or not the planets all orbited on the same path or if they were orbiting separately. The first one to tackle this was his student Eudoxus. His experiments proved that the sun had an ecliptic rotation pattern. This threw into question most known and accepted “facts” about the planets at the time. From then on, the Greeks attempted to figure out how the planets and sun moved. Astronomers Eratosthenes and Aristarchus proposed an idea about the size of the system made up of the sun-earth-moon cycle. Although it was rejected, it spawned other ideas. It was Ptolemy who wrote the book on Greek astronomy ideas. He wrote about how each planet revolved around the earth, the theory that could be accepted for a long time to come.

Equinoxes & Solstices

Equinoxes, solstices and eclipses were a large part of aboriginal astronomy. These concepts were frightening to the early peoples who didn’t truly understand why they were happening. They did not realize that it was as simple as the sun, earth, and moon revolving and occasionally slipping into each other’s light path. However, many cultures also chose to have these things start their calendar years. For instance, Persian’s New Year is celebrated. One of the most interesting ancient myths is the myth that existed in Persepolis at the time. During an equinox, the powers of the fighting bull – Earth – were equal to that of the lion, or the sun.

In reality, an equinox is something that occurs twice a year, when the amount of daylight and the amount of night is almost completely equal. There are two per year and they occur because the earth is not tilted either towards the sun or away from it. One equinox occurs in spring and another occurs in autumn. Solstices also happen twice a year. They occur because the tilt of Earth’s access is inclined toward or away from the sun, meaning that the north and south poles are closer to the sun. On these two days of the year, the amount of daylight hours will be either the most in the year or the fewest.


Eclipses are different. They occur when one planet or moon moves into the shadow of another planet or moon. The term is most often associated with solar eclipses, when the moon’s shadow crosses the earth because the moon is between the earth and the sun. For brief moments, the sun is eclipsed by the moon and a shadow is cast upon the earth. A lunar eclipse is different. Lunar eclipses occur when the moon passes around behind the earth and the earth casts a shadow. Its shadow gets cast right onto the moon. For this to occur, the sun, moon, and earth have to be lined up almost perfectly.

The Sun

The sun’s seasonal path was also extremely important to early peoples because it was something they could actively track. The sun’s path determines many things. It determines how long a day is. It determines how hot it will get on a certain day. It was also important because many early peoples really did live and die by it. They went to bed when the sun went down and woke up when the sun rose. Many peoples actually built their shelters with the sun’s path in mind so that they would be able to have light and more importantly, warmth all year, even in winter.

Aboriginal Astronomy: Advanced Sstronomy

Most people don’t realize how advanced aboriginal astronomy truly was. Although many cultures attributed religious aspects to the astral world, they understood many fundamental facts of the universe far earlier than most people want to admit. It may have been primitive but it was also very impressive.

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