FC: Ancient Chinese Astronomy By:Natasha
1: I dedicate this book to my best friends in the whole world, you know who you are.
2: Astronomy truly is an ancient science in China. In fact, mankind's first record of an eclipse of the Sun was made in China in 2136 B.C.E. Astronomy in China has a very long history, and historians consider that they were the most persistent and accurate observers of celestial phenomena anywhere in the world. They invented the first telescope (sighting tube) in history and built the first observatory. The Chinese astronomy was introduced to the Ming Dynasty and was greatly used during the Qin Dynasty, at about 206 B.C.E. In this essay you will find some fascinating facts about the instruments astronomers used, how could a priest or emperor predict natural climate, the theories of space, star charting, and the time line in ancient astronomy.
4: Chinese astronomers used different instruments to verify what time eclipses would occur and some measured the longitude and latitude of the planets. One of the instruments was a Chronograph; a water clock used by astronomers and astrologers to determine the exact hour for daily rituals and religious festivals. One of the most important instruments used by astronomers was the sighting tubes, a tool that was like a telescope with out lenses. It helped astronomers see faint stars by shutting out light from surrounding celestial bodies and earthly objects. Another of the marvelous instruments the Chinese invented was the star maps or star charts-they were maps or charts showing the relative positions of the stars as seen from earth or the naked eye. A celestial globe is a globe that has dots and lines drawn on it, representing the stars and constellations of the night sky and it also records their position. Now, have you ever heard of the elliptical armilla? I bet you haven't. An elliptical armilla is an instrument that measures the elliptic longitude and latitude difference in celestial bodies which are moons or planets. Another of the most important instruments was the gnomon, a vertical pole that checks the suns shadow and keeps track as it lengthens towards its longest point at the winter solstice. Did you know that the ancient Chinese invented the first observatory in history? The first observatory ever found was one that was built atop a city wall located in Beijing. No one really knows who built it or exactly when, but scientist say that it was built during the Ming dynasty and used during Qin dynasty by the emperors, astronomers, and priests.
6: In ancient China, the priest or emperor that could predict seasonal changes and ties were considered to be gods, because it seemed like they had divine knowledge, just because of the prediction of natural climate. Was that true? Yes and No. Yes, because they could predict the tides and seasonal changes, but no because they had personal astronomers that kept track of the days and months, so they actually knew when the tide or seasonal changes were to occur. The astronomers would look at the stars and see what month it was by the position of the stars, and would know how much longer to wait. Once the astronomers told the emperor or priest the month they were in and told them how much longer for the tides or seasonal changes, he/she told the city about the weather “predictions”. One of the most interesting things about astronomy in ancient China was that the priests or kings would look at the patterns of the clouds at daytime and night time to see what the weather would be, and made a prediction for the next days that were to come. The priest or emperor would keep track of what month they were in so that the natural climate couldn't catch them by surprise. Did you know that those who could forecast these events were often credited with being able to foretell other happenings? If that occurred, the common people worshiped these leaders and were more likely to listen to their warnings and to obey their commands.
8: The Chinese philosophers formulated ideas as astronomy became more famous and more famous by the years. They had three theories that were; the earth that floated on water, the giant egg, and the infinite empty space theory. The first theory was the earth that floated on water, which means exactly what it sounds like. The theory was that the earth was either flat or slightly curved, and floated on water. The sky and stars were overhead, fixed into a curved dome, and the stars were fixed to its surface. The sun and moon crossed through the sky at their own movements at regular intervals. The second theory was the giant egg theory, when the Chinese began to study astronomy, they thought that the universe was a giant egg, and the earth was the center, or the yolk. The sky was stretched around the earth like the inside of the eggshell. The Chinese estimated that the size of the eggshell universe was about 700,000 miles, or 1 million kilometres. At that time they had no idea of what lay beyond the celestial “egg”. The third and last theory was the infinite space theory, which consisted of thinking that the blue sky over earth was actually an optical illusion and that outside that optical illusion lay space. Ancient Chinese astronomers also said that space went on and on, and never ends. Then, by the eighth century they discovered that the universe had been existing for at least a hundred million years!!
10: The Chinese had a lot of interest in very few constellations, and only choose particular stars to chart instead of all the stars in the night sky. That was because they choose stars that had patterns or shapes for the animals in the Chinese zodiac or other constellations. The Chinese developed their own system of constellations and these are quite different to the traditional Western system of constellations. The Chinese did not follow the Western tradition of grouping stars according to their brightness but rather grouped stars according to their location. Also, the Chinese formed their constellations from only a small number of stars, usually consisted of 3-12 stars, only 5 constellations were the most important to them. Chinese constellations were patterned in the same way as those used in Western Europe. These were: (1) the Great Bear, (2) Orion, (3) Auriga, (4) Corona Australis, and (5) the Southern Cross. The Chinese split the stars into 283 constellations that are still used today. They said that the sky was a mirror of the earth. Did you know that the oldest known map of the stars was created 1,300 years ago? It was found buried in a desert cave on the ancient Silk Road between China and the West. This makes the chart several centuries older than the first star maps produced in Europe when astronomy benefited from the invention of the telescope. The chart is written on paper - a Chinese invention - and is a representation of the complete sky with some 1,585 stars grouped into 257 clusters.
12: Astronomy forms part of an important history in China, as we mentioned earlier the first eclipse of the sun was observed by man for the first time in China in 2136 B.C. In the year 1054, the Chinese witnessed a super nova explosion, which today we see as a massive gas cloud we call Crab Nebula. During many years hundreds of discoveries and inventions took place in China related to astronomy. Then in the 17th century they found out that western science had taken the lead as Jesuits demonstrated that European astronomy presented a clock that predicted the movement of stars. The Chinese tried testing the clock by predicting when a sun eclipse would occur according to their astronomic calculations, but they were disappointed to see that the hour came and went with no accuracy on their part. From that point on, Western science challenged Chinese superiority and gave way for them to work hand in hand in future findings. In 1990, China installed the worlds largest reflecting horizontal meridian circle telescope. Many astronomical instruments have continued to be created by the Chinese maintaining a secure spot in the race of advanced technology in the future of astronomy. Many different fields are being explored by Chinese astronomers like lunar exploration, space flights, space rockets, and satellites to name a few. It has become a very productive and challenging industry. Who knows what they will invent in the near future, maybe they will be the first civilization to live on the moon.
14: As you can see, ancient Chinese astronomy is simply fascinating, we are amazed by the advanced technology they used in their times like the first planetarium, which was actually made by an emperor. The planetarium was a big enclosed place with stars and constellations on the inside. The person using the planetarium would sit in a chair that was hanging from the top of the enclosed dome. China has the worlds longest running observations of the sky. It started in 206 B.C.E and is still running today. Now you have learned about the instruments astronomers used, how could a priest or emperor predict natural climate, the theories of space, star charting, and the time line in ancient astronomy. I hope you enjoyed this information and I hope you learned more about ancient Chinese astronomy.
17: Quiz 1.Could the emperor or priest actually predict seasonal changes or tides? Why or Why not? 2. When was the first solar eclipse ever recorded? 3. How many theories are there in ancient astronomy? What are they? 4. Name three instruments that the Chinese used in the observatories. 5. Why did the Chinese only chart some stars and in others they didn't?
19: Bibliography Works Cited Beshore, George. Science in Ancient China. United States of America: George Bishore, 1988. Print. Long, Wu. “ASK.” http://www.ask.com/wiki/Chinese_astronomy. Wu Long, 19 Mar. 2010. Web. 22 Mar. 2010. Owen, John. Ancient China. Australia: Judith Simpson, 1996. Print. Pei, Ming L. “Ancinet Chinese Observatories.” China Page. Ming L. Pei, 20 Mar. 2010. Web. 22 Mar. 2010.
21: Bibliography Pictures http://virgolunatica.wordpress.com/2008/12/06/el-eclipse/ (First eclipse) http://www.istockphoto.com/file_closeup/architecture-and-buildings/architectural-detail/5844712-sundial-in-ancient-china.php?id=5844712 (Sundial) http://www.7is7.com/otto/estonia/peipsi_shore.html (Tides and seasonal changes) http://www.atlasoftheuniverse.com/stars.html (Infinite space theory) http://diannehanks.com/category/seasons/spring/ (Constellations) http://utf.mff.cuni.cz/Relativity/orloj.htm (Ancient Clock) http://www.chinese-architecture.info/PEKING/022-Old_Planetarium_-_1.jpg (Planetarium) http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/china/science/astronomy.htm (Chinese Astronomy Intro)