Recently I came across a characterization of pre-scientific astronomy listing several things known before the discipline acquired method and mathematics to analyze it. It set me wondering how many people today have even a knowledge of astronomy equivalent to what was known to astronomers in 700 BC. Here's the list with a question or two to test your savvy:

1. Naming of prominent stars and constellations. [In what constellation does Sirius the dog-star reside? How many stars are in the constellation Orion? How do you find Sirius from Orion?]

2. Knowing the difference between a star and a planet. {How many panets are visible to the naked eye and what are their names?]

3. Knowledge that the morning star and the evening star are the same astronomical object. [What is the common name of that object?]

4. Knowing that a fixed star which is not circumpolar always rises and sets at the same points on the horizon. [Is this true for the Sun? The moon? The planets?]

5. Knowing that the first appearance of a star after its period of invisibility occurs at the same time of year and may be used to indicate seasons. [What star signaled the advent of the flooding of the Nile in ancient Egypt.]

This is a well-educated group and most of you probably know some of these facts and the  answers to the questions, but how many people in the street know?

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We used to go to an island ten miles off the coast of Maine and the nights there were unpolluted by man-made illumination—very much darker than on the shore. It's incredible how much you can see.

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