03410 - History of Astronomy

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Quality education Gender equality

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

At the end of this course students are expected to have a wide spread information about the historical evolution of Astronomy. Not only that, they are expected to have a deeper understanding of Astronomy itself, as  "traveling back to the past" will have shown to them that what is now given for granted took centuries of study, observation and disputation to be definitely proved out. A close approach to the lives of some famous astronomers, will finally make them to understand how strong (and not always positive) may be the influence of external environment.

Course contents

The course will show the main steps which have provided substantial changes in  Astronomy. It will start from prehistorical way to link sun and star position both to season changements and to religious aspects and it will  end with the distance measure of Andromeda galaxy obtained by Hubble in 1923 that definitively proved that our galaxy was not the only one in the universe

Here is a short summary of the subjects that will be included in the course:

Sun and stars in Prehistory and in different places of the Earth. Astronomical knowledge in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. The first astronomical distance measures by Greek philosophers. Pythagoras and his school. The heliocentric model by Aristarchus of Samos. How Plato influenced cosmology. The model by Eudosso. Aristotle,  Ipparchus of Nicaea and Claudius Ptolemy. Arabian astronomy and astronomy in the Middle Ages. Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Johannes von Kepler, Tycho Brahe and Isaac Newton. How telescopes changed Astronomy. Wilhelm, Caroline and John Herschel. Joseph von Fraunhofer. The first measure of the stellar parallax. The birth of spectroscopy. The spectroscopic classification of stars. The introduction of photographic plates in Astronomy. Henrietta Swan Leavitt. Edwin Hubble


The following books (alphabetically ordered) must be intended only as a suggestion for further reading. It is not mandatory to buy one or all of them. Each book has a different/typical way to approach the subject.

Focardi Paola, "L'uomo e il cosmo. Breve viaggio nella scienza che ci ha resi infinitamente piccoli", Bononia University Press, 2019

Hoskin Michael, "Storia dell'Astronomia", Rizzoli, 2017

Pannekoek Anton, "A History of Astronomy", Dover, 1989 (traduzione italiana disponibile online presso Alm@Dl)


Teaching methods

Lectures will be given in the traditional way,  however large space  for discussion will be left on each treated subject. Students will have the opportunity to create individual programs  including one or more subjects among the ones treated (or even not treated) in the course. Individual programs will have to be approved by the teacher. Students from humanistic areas will have course contents more focused  on philosophical aspects than on scientific-technological ones.


Assessment methods

Oral test lasting between 40 and 60 minutes. Students may have half of the test focused on a subject that they have chosen and on which they have made a deep investigation. If  his were the case, the remaining half of the test will be devoted to verify,  by means of a couple of questions,  the  students knowledge of  the subjects addressed in the course. If students choose the "traditional test"  this will consist of 3 to 4 questions concerning the subjects treated in the course (or in the individual program if this were the case).

Teaching tools

Video Projector and PC.

Office hours

See the website of Paola Focardi