Well said, Tracie

Dominic Ford

Well said, Tracie.

It’s dangerous to assume that ancient observers had anything like the mindset of a modern amateur astronomer.

The ancient Greeks were so certain that the sky was unchanging that they insisted novae and comets were inside the Earth’s atmosphere. The experiment that Tycho Brahe did to disprove this wasn’t technically difficult — he simply measured the parallax of a nova and showed it was less than the Moon’s. The reason this had to wait until the 16th century wasn’t lack of technology, it was just that nobody was asking the right question.

I don’t doubt that in the whole history of Australia, there wasn’t some bright spark who said “Hey, Betelgeuse looks bright tonight!”. But that doesn’t count as a “discovery”. We don’t say that Hipparcos or Flamsteed “discovered” Uranus, simply because they observed it and marked it on star charts. We credit the discovery to Herschel, because he was the first to realise it wasn’t just another a faint star.

As Tracie says, ancient people probably ascribed any variability they observed to sky conditions. In most cases, that was probably the correct interpretation. In the absence of any evidence that their thinking went deeper than that, I think it’s nonsense to speculate further!