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Full text of "Astronomy and man / Morton S. Silberstein."

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September 8, I9A5 

Entrance Thesis 



Maryland Beta Chapter 
University of Maryland 
College Park, ifA, 


Astronomy, the most comprehensive and also the oldest 
of sciences, has been investigated by modem science to the point 
where now a great deal is known of the universe about us. However, 
most people of today know less of the actual 'heavens than did the 
ancient Arabs of two thousand years ago. 

The greatest value of astronomy is cultural. It makes 
man realize his insignificant place in the universe, and stimulates 
his mind to find out as much as he can of the astronomical bodies 
and systems of bodies, and makes him ponder over the origin and 
extent of the cosmos. The practical applications of astronomy 
receive less attention than the aesthetic. 

As a hobby, astronomy affords a great source of pleasure. 
One may satisfy himself as to the existence of the various heaven- 
ly bodies by observing them, and can test the practical methods in- 
which astronomical observations are used. I was highly pleased 
when on my first attempt I correctly computed the time from obeer- 
vatlons on the stars. 

As a life's work, there are unllmilted fields for research 
in astronomy, for man will probably never gain a knowledge of^ the 
entire universe. 


Astronomy la the most comprehensive of sciences; It 
.deals v/lth the space, time, and matter of the entire universe, 
down to, but not Including, that which occurs on the face of the 
earth Itself, It is also the oldest of sciences; the ancient 
desert peoples had ample opportunity to study the configurations 
and motions of the stellar "bodies. With the aid of modern scien- 
tific instruments and methods, our astronomers have glvm the world 
a knowledge extending far into the depths of the surrounding uni- 
verse. Yet there are too many people today who know little or 
nothing of the science of astronomy as developed in modem times, 
or even of that part of astronomy which has always been available 
for study-- the mere observation of the heavenly bodies. It is 
probable that the ancient nomadic Arabs of two thousand years ago 
knew more of the existence and motions of the heavenly bodies than 
ninety per cent of the college graduates of our country today. 

What, then, is the value of astronomy. If so many people 
are able to subsist comfortably without any cognizance of the sub- 
ject? The truth la that measured In monetary units, an understanding 
of the principles of this science would have little or no value to 
the average person. It is culturally that astronomy has Its 
greatest worth* aa a stimulus to the mind of man, and as a means 
of bringing him to a realization of his place with respect to the 
space about him. Contrary to the thoughts of the most ancient 
philosophers, astrononiy shows man today that he, and the entire 
world he lives on, are Incredulously Insignificant parts of the universe 

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he has begun to atudy. Instead of being the dominating Influence 
in the universe, man finds that he In reality is only a tiny speck, 
on a tiny spinning globe, one of many like it revolving about a 
larger, luminous body, the sunj the sun in turn is only a small 
example of millions of similar stars, together comprising a system, 
or galaxy, which is yet only one element of a still greater super- 
galaxy; of these super-galaxies there are an undetermined number 
In the metagalaxy, a super-system which together with the cosmo- 
plasma, the space and matter that fills In between the orderly 
systems (for all of the forementioned systems are orderly in that 
they are governed throughout in their motions by physical law) , 
forms what we speak of as the universe. Astronomy is the greatest 
stimulus to the mind, to instil in it the desire to know more and 
more of the details of each successively more remote body or sys- 
tem of bodies; to know what comes beyond the outermost that is 
now knovm; and eyen further, to solve the greatest of all problems, 
cosmogony — the origin and evolution of the material universe. 

Astronomy also has its practical values— determination 
of time, navigation, prediction of tides, and so forth — but these 
are of minor Import when compared with the Intellectual value of 
the science, and the desire for learning which it infuses in the 
mind. The great expenditure of time, effort, and money on research 
in the great astronomloal observatories is a verification of this 
statement, for the new discoveries made add to man's store of 
knowledge, but not necessarily to his practical application of 
it. . ■ . 

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If one takes up astronomy as a hobby, he can satisfy 
his Intellectual curiosity as to the existence and appearance of 
many of the bodies in the universe. '/?ith the naked eye or with 
field glasses, he can study the constellations and motions of the 
heavens, and with only a moderate size telescope he is able to 
find examples of practically every representative object for obser- 
vation. A few of these, as seen through a telescope, are illustrated 
in the accompanying photographs. Those illustrated are only a 
few of the many wonders v?aiting for the amateur's eye. 

Interest and gratification also are in store for the 
amateur who tries his luck at the practical side of astronomy as 
well. Recently, during my college course in astronomy, I borrowed 
from the instructor a small telescope, with equatorial mounting 
and graduated circles, of about the same size and power as a 
surveyor's transit. 'Yith this instrument, I took readings on a 
star, with the purpose of computing the time. It was about a half- 
hour later that I came in to make my computations, but when I 
finally arrived at the exact tir;ie, measured to the minute, that I 
recorded at the time of observation, I felt as if I had really 
accomplished something of great importance. Cf course, there 
are many other ways in which even the novice can try his hand at 
practical astronomy. 

To move now to the ;i,ore serious aspect of the sciences- 
research in astronomy as a life work- -I believe it is now apparent 
that there are boundless fields for new discovery; there is always 

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more beyond the most remote things known; for, although mathema- 
tlciana and physicists say now that the universe is finite, It 
is extremely doubtful that man will ever gain a knowledge of its 

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Planet -- Saturn, with Rings 

I^oon at First (Quarter, Showing 
"Seas" and Craters 

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-..,^m%: f 

Spiral Metula 

Diffuse ^!ebula 


Baker, Robert H., Astronomy, 3ra edition, D. Van Nostrand Co., 
Few York, 1938. 

Shapley, Karlow, Flights from Chaos , McGraw-Hill Book Co., 
New York, 1930. 

Shapley, Harlow, Reading with a Purpose; The Stars , American 
Library Association, Chicaso, 1927. 




Thesis prepared 

Arnold W. Smoot 
for InltlBtion into the 
Tan Beta Pi Fraternity. 

Jamiary 15, 19 3S,