New Ideas in Astronomy in the Islamic World

From the 8th century to the 15th, Islamic scientists did a lot of very advanced work in the field. Through the Ptolemaic framework, they mostly improved and tweaked the Ptolemaic system, making better tables and tools that helped them observe things better. The many important things that Islamic astronomy brought to light also showed where the Ptolemaic and Aristotelian methods fell short.

Giving information and teaching

Around 833, al-Farghani (died after 861) wrote Elements of Astronomy on the Motions of the Celestial Bodies. He was better known in the West as Alfraganus. This textbook mostly talked about Ptolemy’s Almagest without using math. It was updated with new numbers from Islamic astronomers who came before. A lot of people in the Islamic world read it, and in the 12th century, it was translated into Latin. It was the main book that scholars in Europe used to learn about Ptolemaic astronomy.

This book is a big reason why the Greek astronomical method of Ptolemy became popular in the West. It was published in several Latin versions and studied a lot in Europe from the 1200s to the 1700s.

In some cases, like Ibn al-Hatheym’s Doubts on Ptolomey, they did a lot more than just translate and pass on information. They also wrote a thorough analysis of Ptolomey and used mathematical models to show how the heavens move.

Adding to and improving Ptolemy’s work

By putting together Ptolemy’s work on mapping constellations with Arabic astronomical customs, Al-Sufi wrote “The Book of the Fixed Stars.” The book, which was written around 964, has detailed pictures of each symbol seen from both Earth (looking up) and space (looking down).

Al-Sufi’s drawings of these constellations became the standard way to show them. Many people in Europe translated and read his writings. We still use a lot of the star names he wrote down in the book.

More constellations and stars in those constellations were written down in the Book of the Fixed Stars than ever before. Some of the first records of what we now know to be a different galaxy are in these. The star on the right side of Andromeda’s belt is not a star, as Al-Sufi first thought. It is one of only two galaxies that can be seen with the human eye. What we now call the Andromeda Galaxy was something he had seen and written down.

Where Western Classical Astronomy Came From

What is astronomy? Al-Balkhi, also known as Abu Mashar, was an Islamic magician who lived from 805 (?–886). The frontispiece of this copy of his most famous work shows him holding an armillary sphere. It is important to keep in mind that the ideas we have today about astrology being superstitious and astronomy being scientific are not good analogies for understanding the past. In Abu Mashar’s time, it was normal and reasonable to think about what the moves of the stars meant and how they affected what would happen in the future.

His translations of Greek books, especially Aristotle’s works, were very important in spreading Aristotle’s ideas in the Islamic world and later in Europe. Abu Mashar also did work in astrology. In the 12th century, his work was translated from Arabic to Latin. Intellectuals in the Middle Ages and Renaissance held it in high regard.

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