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Stellar Primary Sources: An Astronomy Day Blog Round-Up

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Astronomy Day is April 25, and we at Teaching with the Library of Congress are standing by with a cluster of blog posts featuring primary sources that explore changing ideas of the solar system and what lies beyond it.

Historical documents may be rooted in the past, but they provide a powerful way for the scientists and stargazers of today to familiarize themselves with scientific practices, to observe the ways in which scientific knowledge changes over time, and to honor the legacy of those who have boldly gone before them.

Speaking of stars, each of these posts was written by our former colleague Trevor Owens, who always left us dazzled.

A plan or map of the Solar System, 1846
A plan or map of the Solar System, 1846

World, Sun, Solar System: Models of Our Place in the Cosmos introduces the importance of models, and shows students how comparing two competing models of the solar system — one Earth-centered and one sun-centered — can tell us what their creators believed about the universe.

Have you visited the planet Vulcan lately? In 1846, you might have thought it was just a few planets away. Asteroid Impostors and the Planet that Never Was: What’s on Your Diagram of the Solar System? examines a diagram of the solar system featuring a number of mysterious objects, and leads students to consider how the creators of models decide what does and doesn’t count.

It’s all about perspective. In Exploring Eclipses Through Primary Sources: Earth, Moon & Sun, we look at different ways of depicting a solar eclipse and ask what they tell us about what was important to the people who created them.

The Man in the Moon. Illustration from L'homme dans la lune... by Francis Goodwin, 1666.
The Man in the Moon. Illustration from L’homme dans la lune… by Francis Goodwin, 1666.

Goose-powered space flight? Why not? 300 Years of Imaginary Space Ships: 1630-1920 blasts off into realm beyond our solar system, showing us space vehicles as envisioned by artists from over three centuries. Examining these fantastic objects can tell us a great deal about the ways in which the idea of the future has changed throughout the past, and about the persistent human dream of travel beyond the stars.

Share your favorite tips on using historical documents to explore astronomical topics, and be sure to visit the Library’s blog Inside Adams: Science Technology, and Business.

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