By Joel Davis
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One person who knew of this work was Hipparchus of Nicaea, who lived in the second century BCE. Like Pythagoras before him, Hipparchus had first turned to the work of the Babylonians, using their astronomical observations to construct a physical cosmology. To these observations Hipparchus added Aristotle's explanations. However, Hipparchus quickly discovered the inconsistencies that Aristotle and his associates had ignored. It was clear to anyone who carefully watched the planets, for example, that they did not in real life move on circular paths or move at uniform speeds.
Two others, one yellowish and the other more white, also wound their way through the stars. One took about twelve years, the other about thirty, to make a circuit. Today we know that these "wandering stars" are the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Every night people could see some stars fall from the sky. Little flashes of light, most of them were. Occasionally, though, one would blaze brilliantly, trailing a tail of sparks and fire. We now know that these are meteorites, tiny flakes of dust and occasional chunks of rock that fall from space and bum up in the earth's atmosphere.
Like most other people of his time, Aristotle knew that the earth was round and not flat. He lived in a sea-faring nation. He could see with his own eyes what happened when a ship sailed off toward the horizon. It became smaller, and as it did so the ship's main body would disappear. Then its mast would begin to fall below the horizon, until the entire ship was lost to sight. Thus it was obvious that the earth's surface was curved. Besides, the shadow of the earth on the Moon during a lunar eclipse was circular.