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Thought Questions

AstronomyThought Questions

Thought Questions


Describe a practical way to determine in which constellation the Sun is found at any time of the year.


What is a constellation as astronomers define it today? What does it mean when an astronomer says, “I saw a comet in Orion last night”?


Draw a picture that explains why Venus goes through phases the way the Moon does, according to the heliocentric cosmology. Does Jupiter also go through phases as seen from Earth? Why?


Show with a simple diagram how the lower parts of a ship disappear first as it sails away from you on a spherical Earth. Use the same diagram to show why lookouts on old sailing ships could see farther from the masthead than from the deck. Would there be any advantage to posting lookouts on the mast if Earth were flat? (Note that these nautical arguments for a spherical Earth were quite familiar to Columbus and other mariners of his time.)


Parallaxes of stars were not observed by ancient astronomers. How can this fact be reconciled with the heliocentric hypothesis?


Why do you think so many people still believe in astrology and spend money on it? What psychological needs does such a belief system satisfy?


Consider three cosmological perspectives—the geocentric perspective, the heliocentric perspective, and the modern perspective—in which the Sun is a minor star on the outskirts of one galaxy among billions. Discuss some of the cultural and philosophical implications of each point of view.


The north celestial pole appears at an altitude above the horizon that is equal to the observer’s latitude. Identify Polaris, the North Star, which lies very close to the north celestial pole. Measure its altitude. (This can be done with a protractor. Alternatively, your fist, extended at arm’s length, spans a distance approximately equal to 10°.) Compare this estimate with your latitude. (Note that this experiment cannot be performed easily in the Southern Hemisphere because Polaris itself is not visible in the south and no bright star is located near the south celestial pole.)


What were two arguments or lines of evidence in support of the geocentric model?


Although the Copernican system was largely correct to place the Sun at the center of all planetary motion, the model still gave inaccurate predictions for planetary positions. Explain the flaw in the Copernican model that hindered its accuracy.


During a retrograde loop of Mars, would you expect Mars to be brighter than usual in the sky, about average in brightness, or fainter than usual in the sky? Explain.


The Great Pyramid of Giza was constructed nearly 5000 years ago. Within the pyramid, archaeologists discovered a shaft leading from the central chamber out of the pyramid, oriented for favorable viewing of the bright star Thuban at that time. Thinking about Earth’s precession, explain why Thuban might have been an important star to the ancient Egyptians.


Explain why more stars are circumpolar for observers at higher latitudes.


What is the altitude of the north celestial pole in the sky from your latitude? If you do not know your latitude, look it up. If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, answer this question for the south celestial pole, since the north celestial pole is not visible from your location.


If you were to drive to some city south of your current location, how would the altitude of the celestial pole in the sky change?


Hipparchus could have warned us that the dates associated with each of the natal astrology sun signs would eventually be wrong. Explain why.


Explain three lines of evidence that argue against the validity of astrology.


What did Galileo discover about the planet Jupiter that cast doubt on exclusive geocentrism?


What did Galileo discover about Venus that cast doubt on geocentrism?

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