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AST80008 History of Astronomy

Course/s with Unit:
A unit of study in the Graduate Certificate of Science (Astronomy), Graduate Diploma of Science (Astronomy) and Master of Science (Astronomy).

Credit Points:
12.5 Credit Points

One semester

Contact Hours:
Equivalent to 60 hours




Learning and Teaching Structure:
Online delivery mode, contact via newsgroups & email.

Assessable newsgroup contributions (30%), essay (50%) and online tests (20%).

This Unit will investigate the development and impact of astronomy from ancient times to the present day, from the viewpoint of practicing astronomers. No background knowledge of astronomy or physics is assumed.

After successfully completing this Unit, students should be able to:

  • appreciate the social reasons which lead to the development of astronomical knowledge in ancient times;
  • understand the development of astronomical concepts and techniques throughout the ages in world societies;
  • recognise the major influences on and key players in the development of astronomy as it emerged as a science in western societies;
  • appreciate the interplay of Newtonian and post-Newtonian physics with astronomy, and the influence of the rise of scientific instrumentation in astronomy;
  • recognise the social implications of the historical development of astronomy, plus the status of astronomy as an international science in the 21st century.
  • research a topic in the history of astronomy in detail, using dependable sources of astronomical and historical information on the internet.

Key Generic Skills:
Participation in AST80008 History of Astronomy will help students develop the attributes that are considered desirable in a Swinburne graduate including the following generic skills:

  • analysis skills
  • communications skills
  • ability to tackle unfamiliar problems


  • Naked eye astronomy; archaeoastronomy; the influence of mythology
  • The development of astronomy in Mesopotamia and Egypt; constellations, the zodiac, eclipses, astrology, concepts of time
  • Natural philosophy and science in ancient Greece, Greek and Roman astronomy
  • Islamic astronomy; astronomy in Asia: Chinese and Indian astronomy
  • Medieval astronomy: the influence of Islamic science, pre-Copernicans, practical uses of medieval astronomy, the Copernican revolution: Brahe, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo
  • The Newtonian revolution: Descartes, Newtonian cosmology, Halley; Kant and galaxies, Herschel and Uranus, physics and astronomy after Newton
  • 19th century: discovery of Neptune, rise of large telescopes and observatories, nebulae to galaxies, spectroscopy and astrophysics, astrophotography and photometry
  • New wavelengths: the electromagnetic spectrum, infrared radiation, the dawn of radio astronomy
  • 20th century: relativity, cosmology and the Big Bang; the shift from imaging to imagination; modern cosmology
  • Issues in the history of astronomy: the philosophy of science and the scientific method; women in astronomy; astronomical instrumentation and technological developments

Prescribed Textbook & Reading Materials:
For information about the textbook, follow this link.

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