Ancient Astronomers

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Who were the Arabic People?

Rather than one particular culture, the Arabic cultures were actually a collective of various people in the Arab region. Each contributed to uniquely to the science of Astronomy and addressed it specific to their own religious and cultural norms.

The first calendar probably came into use around 4000 B.C. The Egyptians noticed on one day every year, that a very bright star -- Sirius -- appeared in the eastern sky shortly before sunrise. The also coincided with the annual flood of the Nile. By counting the days between each appearance of the star, they determined that the length of a year was approximately 365 days. They then divided that period into 12 segments of 30 days with five days left over. This was a precursor to the later Gregorian calendar that we use today.

Independently, the Sumerians (a people in Mesopotamia), developed a calendrical system around 3500 B.C. Theirs was based no the movements of the moon. Instead of 12 months, the calendar was divided into 13 28-day segments.
They are also credited with the division of the circle into different parts with each degree further divided into 60 'minutes.' This ultimately led to the measuring of time intervals and eventually the invention of clocks.

Abraham, the father of both the Muslim and Hebrew faiths was from the Land of the Chaldeas. Both of these faiths are monotheistic and rely heavily on the the movements of the moon for their calendars. Because each one must know precisely when sundown occurs on each Sabbath, in order to be accurate in their worship ceremonies, the development of many astronomical tools and measurements. The Islamic faith led the way in this science throughout medieval times when other cultures stagnated.
The Chaldeans who were considered pagans among the Muslims and Jews. Around 600 BC, under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar (mentioned in the book of Daniel in the Judeo/Christian Bible) extended the work of earlier peoples and conducted an intensive study of the motions of the sun, moon, planets and stars.
Without telescopes or accurate time-recording instruments, the Chaldeans used their advanced mathematics to calculate detailed tables concerning and predicting the motions of these bodies.
The Chaldeans were responsible for naming the days of the week after heavenly bodeis, a practice elaborated by many succeeding cultures. However, they also believed that the stars could enable them to foretell the future. From this arose the pseudo-science of astrology, which has survived till modern times.


Muslim scholar made significant contributions to the modern sciences of physics, chemistry, medicine, mathematics and astronomy.
During the Middle Ages when European science declined, it was the Muslims who preserved astronomy.
To the Muslims, astronomy was essential to navigation, and religious practices. The study of the stars needed to be precise for day to day life in this regard. Consequently, they constructed many observatories and improved measuring instruments.
Mathematics -- algebra and geometry -- were developed for use in solving practical astronomical and navigational problems.

(the preceding information is from Robin Westgate, Teacher, English Speaking School, Al Ain)

Links to Arabic Astronomy


  1. What tools, inventions and skills were developed by the Arab astronomers?
  2. Why was it important to this culture to be accurate in their measuring of time through astronomy? How was this tied to their religion?
  3. What developments were made in an effort to achieve greater accuracy of measurements?
  4. How are they different from the Greeks in terms of advancements? What did they have in common?
  5. What other facts do you find important or interesting about Arabic astronomy?