“For tens of thousands of years, mankind has spent many nights under the blanket of the sky,” said Harald Prins, distinguished professor of anthropology.
“(People) began to see a vast array of lights come out at the moment the sun has disappeared, and they saw all kinds of configurations in the sky,” he said. “People have, without television and radio to distract them, been looking at the sky for (a long time).”
People noticed certain stars were appearing first and some were disappearing last, Prins said.
“People began to see the associations between night and day,” he said. “In the daytime, you have the sun, and in the nighttime, you have a very big star – the moon, which is a huge amount bigger than any of the other stars – at least that was believed to be, before telescopes came into existence. People began to make rankings.”
Galileo was the first to use a telescope, said Bharat Ratra, professor of physics.
“He saw craters and mountains on the moon and sunspots and moons of Jupiter,” Ratra said. “He also saw that Venus changes its appearance as it goes around the sun.”
Ratra said scientists use celestial bodies in a variety of ways.
“We can use them for finding new phenomenon,” he said.
In the past, people have created ways of describing these phenomenon.
“People have made up stories about them because they began to see a link between the sun rising in the east and disappearing in the west,” Prins said. “First, you have to figure out where (the sun) goes at night when the moon rises, and the difference between the risings of the sun in the winter as opposed to in the summer.”
People began to come up with explanations of why the sun does not show up at the same spot on the horizon, and also why the moon goes through phases, he said.
“Once you begin to see a pattern, you realize that there is something going on that has some sort of reason, so then you begin to look for the pattern all across the globe and come up with explanations of why that is,” Prins said.
People gave names to the sun, moon, stars and their configurations, as well as identities, he said.
“People then began to come up with mythologies in which they could explain what the function was and what that spirit was,” he said. “These cycles have a marking point, and the sun and the moon identify at what point in the annual calendar you are.”
Prins said this is why people became preoccupied with celestial bodies.
“In different cultures, the association with the sun as a life giver is directly associated with the growing of the crops,” Prins said. “People begin to engage in rituals of sun worship, and then certain rulers, like the Incas in Peru, began to associate themselves with the power of the sun and claimed that they were the children of the sun.”
Worship of the sun could be connected with the worship of a ruler, who would claim he and his wife were children of the sun, he said.
“The pharaohs in Egypt did the same thing,” Prins said. “In several parts of the world, the power of the sun was linked to the political and religious power of the rulers and high priests, who began to see the blessings of the sun and the life-giving force of the sun, and associated themselves with the benign, powerful light of the sun.”
Groups like the Egyptians and Incas, who worshipped the sun, used gold in much of their clothing and accessories, he said.
“Gold comes with precious value associated with the sun,” he said.
Some cultures refer to celestial objects with either the masculine or feminine gender, Prins said.
“In most cultures, the sun is masculine, and the moon is feminine,” he said.
Prins said a woman’s menstrual cycle comes and goes like the moon.
“There is an association with the moon and womanhood,” he said. “The sun is referred to as masculine because of the association of masculinity to fire and war.”
To the American Indians, earth is seen as a mother and the sun as father, Prins said.
Traditionally, the Indians grew corn, squash and beans, which were referred to as the “Three Sisters.”
“They are three sisters born to Mother Earth,” he said, “Mother Earth is the moisture and the nutrients, and Father Sun is necessary to ripen it all.”
Physically, celestial objects do not have an effect on the earth or people because of their weak gravitational force, Ratra said.
“They are way too far away to have any effect,” he said.