How Did Ancient People Use the Stars and Planets?

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How Did Ancient People Use the Stars and Planets?
The phases of the moon were used to create the first calendars. (NASA/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The stars in the night sky have fascinated individuals in many different cultures for thousands of years. Long before astrologists fully understood the difference between stars and planets, ancient astrologers were making observations about the changes in the sun and moon, and about the constellations that appeared regularly in the sky. In ancient times the stars and planets were used for a number of purposes.

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Development of Calendars

In ancient times, as early as 5,000 years ago, the very first astronomers observed changes in the sun and moon. They noticed patterns in the sun's rising and setting and in the shape and position of the moon on any given evening. Eventually most cultures created calendars based on the movements of the sun and the moon. The rising and setting of the sun marked the beginning and end of a day. The phases of the moon determined the length of a month. When a moon was full, one month had ended and a new one had begun.

Creation of Stories

Ancient civilisations created stories based on the shapes of constellations made up of stars. Constellations sometimes looked like people, animals or objects. According to the Space Online Today website, astronomical observations used to create such stories were carved into the stone of caves by ancient civilisations as long as 30,000 years ago.

Determining Global Position

Ancient sailors used the stars to help guide them while they were at sea. Early astronomers realised that some constellations, such as the Big Dipper, were only seen in the northern part of the sky. Knowing where north was helped travellers figure out what direction they needed to head in to reach their destination, and helped them get back home if they were to become lost.

Predicting the Future

The creation of astrological signs came from early astronomers. In ancient Babylon, astronomers kept track of the paths and movements of the planets. It was believed by most ancient civilisations that observing the movement of the planets could help to predict the future and determine the course an individual's life would take.

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