Saturday, 12 March 2011

Discovery and exploration

For many thousands of years, humanity, with a few notable exceptions, did not recognize the existence of the Solar System. People believed the Earth to be stationary at the center of the universe and categorically different from the divine or ethereal objects that moved through the sky. Although the Greek philosopher Aristarchus of Samos had speculated on a heliocentric reordering of the cosmos,[1] Nicolaus Copernicus was the first to develop a mathematically predictive heliocentric system. His 17th-century successors, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton, developed an understanding of physics that led to the gradual acceptance of the idea that the Earth moves around the Sun and that the planets are governed by the same physical laws that governed the Earth. In more recent times, improvements in the telescope and the use of unmanned spacecraft have enabled the investigation of geological phenomena such as mountains and craters, and seasonal meteorological phenomena such as clouds, dust storms and ice caps on the other planets.

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