The first thing anyone notices is that the bright lights seen in the night
sky, which we now know are stars, planets and other celestial bodies,
appear to rotate around the earth. These days we know that this is not the
case. If you go for a walk far from the lights of the city, and observe the
"starry skies", you realise that this is something that happens every day.
As ordinary people, we cannot perceive that some of those points of light
are moving in relation to each other. However astronomers are able to study
these phenomena methodically.
A relatively educated person can understand quite easily that the planets revolve around the Sun and the Moon
revolves around the Earth, however explaining it to someone turns out to be more difficult.
There are many difficult questions, such as why the Moon always shows us the same face. Or another: if winter
occurs when the Earth is farthest from the Sun then why is it that half of the Earth is in winter while the
other half is in summer?
Since ancient times, humans have watched the skies. They probably had more time in those days than we do, and
so were able to make observations over a long period of time, until they eventually observed that some of the
points of light in the sky made relative movements to each other. These observers did not have to be
especially intelligent or have special instruments to reach these conclusions. There are a number of bright
celestial lights, however that move in a completely different way to the majority. The ancient humans must
have thought these had some other meanings. Without realising it, they would have been looking at the planets.
And without technological means they would have been observing principally just those lights, since because
they are relatively close to Earth, they could have been seen far brighter than the other millions of bodies
that also moved in a relative way, but which were much further away. In fact, they never recognised the
planet Neptune as it is very small and not very bright, and when it was eventually discovered, it was not
discovered through observation, but rather by mathematical calculations.
Our ancient ancestors must have also made another important breakthrough in their discipline to observe
these bright lights, because in order to refer specifically to these points of light, they were forced to
define reference points in the sky. So they invented constellations, which were apparently static relative
to each other. They could therefore describe the movement of the "planets" through different constellations,
describing specific movements in different seasons of the year.
If they were patient in their observations, and they were very patient, they could, without superior
intelligence and technology, calculate how often the planets returned to repeat their movements and
therefore formulate these relationships over long periods of time. These intervals are called synodic
cycles. They could also see that in some situations these planets were much closer to each other and so
they were able to make assumptions about their meanings, in other words they could associate esoteric
properties to those planets, and as a consequence when two planets appeared closer they would infer
special meanings about the planets' relationship.
Primitive peoples observed these conceptual formations in the sky and called them Aries, Taurus, Gemini,
They were enigmatic things for these ancient people; however for astronomers today they are just
coincidences because we looking at them from here on Earth. Berenice was the wife of the Egyptian
Pharaoh Ptolemy III and she lent her name to Coma Berenices or Berenice's Hair, which is a cluster
of thousands of galaxies, some of which are located about 370 million light years from the Earth.
If we lived on a planet in the Coma Berenices, we would see the same stars of the Zodiac but in a
totally different arrangement! For an alien astrologer used to reading fortunes there, he/she/it
would not be able to make any sense in referring to Taurus the Bull for example, someone would not
be able to associate any stars with the form of a bull as seen from there.
It is necessary to realise that the constellations are two dimensional images as we observe them from
Earth, just like a drawing on a piece of paper. It is how we see them, but astronomers understand that
they are more like a tri-dimensional volume in space.
Stonehenge shows that people of the Bronze Age made very precise observations, especially regarding the
Sun and the Moon. I argue that they did not need to be as intelligent as some academics have made them
out to be. One only has to see how the famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe did not stand out because
he was a genius but rather due to his industriousness. He set about making rigorous records about the
positions of the stars, identifying nearly 800 of them and he had the patience to produce extremely
large tables of data with measurements. To achieve this, he devised a series of large mechanical
The idea was to have an accurate way to look at an object and mark its coordinates. Tycho Brahe did
not believe in the ideas of Copernicus, and though he was not able to contradict him with his
measurements, it did enable him to produce a map of the stars and planetary positions over a very
long period of time.
However, he could not advance further. What was needed was to deduce a conceptual conclusion from
the huge tables of measurements. This next step was taken by Johannes Kepler, who was able to
extrapolate explications from those numbers, equations and mathematical concepts. So he established
a relationship between the six known planets and six geometric figures that explained their
movements. Although he had taken a bold step and it was a major conceptual transformation of the
known universe at the time, his hypothesis was not correct because there were missing planets which
were still to be discovered!
Galileo, on observing Saturn, referred to it as "the triple body of Saturn, or the planet with ears".
Forty five years later, Christian Huygens discovered that it had rings. In Western civilisation we
call it Saturn because it was the name the Romans gave it, after the Roman god Saturn. It is the
sixth planet. It has been known from ancient times and different cultures have called it by
different names. Other civilizations also named the rest of the planets differently. Here I cite
Saturn as an example because I'm from our Western civilisation; however, this does not invalidate
the issue I want to emphasize. NASA's Cassini probe discovered a hexagon shape crowning the planet.
For esoteric people it must be very surprising. The film was recorded on November 10, 2006. The
Cassini-Huygens mission lasted for four years ending in 2008. At the time of writing, a second
mission was about to begin, called Cassini Equinox, designed to elucidate other enigmas.