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Aristarchus of Samos

(c. 320—250 bc)


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(c.320 bc–c.250 bc) Greek astronomer

Little is known of the life of Aristarchus, but Archimedes reported that Aristarchus had proposed that, while the Sun and the fixed stars are motionless, the Earth moves around the Sun on the circumference of a circle. Just what led Aristarchus to this view and how firmly he held it is not known. It received no support until the late medieval period.

One short work of Aristarchus has survived – On the Sizes and Distances of the Sun and Moon. In this work he calculated that the Earth is about 18 times further away from the Sun than from the Moon. His method was to use the fact that when the Moon is exactly in the second quarter it will form a right-angled triangle with the Earth and the Sun, and the relative lengths of the sides of the triangle can be determined by angular measurement. Although Aristarchus's method is correct, his measurement was inaccurate (the Sun is roughly 400 times further away). Despite the size of the error it was nevertheless the first attempt to come to grips with astronomical distances by something more sophisticated than revelation or guesswork.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics — Classical Studies.


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