You are on page 1of 7


The emphasis here is on the scientific study of man's cosmic environment to avai
l you with some basic facts about the cosmic environment - major and minor plane
ts, shape of the earth, measuring time by observing heavens and the emergence of
man-made clocks, and contemporary space exploration and rise of cosmic technolo
Cosmos ordinarily means ordered universe, or just "order" as opposed to "chaos".
The adjective "cosmic" is pertaining to the universe or to the earth as a part
of the universe.
Man-universe relationship began from the moment of the emergence of earl
y men. As you look into the sky at night the "umbrella heaven" appears as a vas
t hemispheric canopy stretched over-head. Hanging on this canopy are countless t
iny stars of varying brightness. Also the moon is seen in different shapes at d
ifferent times. In the day, the sun shines brightly and hot, difficult to stare
at with naked eyes. It rises in the east and sets in the west. Perhaps for mi
llions of years all these remained sources of wonder.
Today, you and I know that this canopy is an illusion; the stars are not
all equidistant from the earth as the points on such a canopy would be. They a
re all so far away that without special instruments of the greatest refinement,
it is not possible to measure the distance to any of them.
Day to day common sense suggests that a body is taken to be at rest or i
n motion depending on whether its position relative to the earth's surface is fi
xed or changing. Given to this common sense view point as you watch the sun and
stars rise in the east, sweep across the sky, and set in the west you are bound
to conclude that these heavenly bodies revolve about the earth.
Precisely, the ancient men were tenacious on this opinion. To them, the
universe was centred on the fixed earth on which they lived. Myths, legends, a
nd superstitious stories evolved, concerning the cosmic environment of man. It
is believed in the South East Asia that the moon you see upsky is but the face o
f a beautiful woman. Since she was beautiful men disturbed her and in reaction
she climbed up into the sky from whence she has been staring at the earth ever s
ince'. However, the scientific study of man's cosmic environment did not confir
m this to be true. Thus, in the summer of 1969 when the American astronauts lan
ded on the moon they did not do so on human head/face of any sort. But on solid
mass of a planet which they dug and collected sample rocks from. Now we know b
etter thanks, to science and technology.
Pupils are taught today that the sun and stars are actually at rest, while the s
olid earth beneath our feet spins through space and causes the illusions of moti
on in the sky. This interpretation of the basic geometrical facts of astronomy
goes back to the ancient Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos, who lived about
250 years B.C. His interpretation did not gain widespread acceptance until the
seventeenth century. Nonetheless his was the first recorded attempt at a scient
ific measurement of the relative distances of the moon from the earth. He also
speculated on the sizes of the moon, the earth and the sun. According to him th
e earth is larger than the moon, though a good deal smaller than the sun.
The notion of the spherical form of the earth goes back to the early Pyt
hagoreans - Philolaus, Hicetas and Ecphantus. Heracleides of Pontus, a contempo
rary of Aristotle, was another major figure in the study of man's cosmic environ
ment in ancient Greece. Following the proposal of Hicetas and Ecphantus, he tau
ght that the apparent westward rotation of the celestial sphere is due to an eas
tward rotation of the earth about an axis through its own centre directed toward
s the north celestial pole. His idea that the inferior planets, Venus and Mercu
ry, revolve round the Sun laid the foundation for the development of complete he
liocentric conception of the motions of the earth and other planets by Aristarch
us, mentioned earlier on.
Heracleides and Aristarchus were far ahead of their time. Their contemp
oraries could not comprehend their science. As such their ideas did not gain ge

neral acceptance among philosophers then. In truth their ideas were generally i
gnored for nearly two thousand years. However, in the end, it was from the sugg
estions of these two ancient Greek scientists that Copernicus' conception of man
's cosmic environment which sparked off the revolution that led to the developme
nt of modern science.
In antiquity, only the brightest planets were known. They are five in all
ry, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. These heavenly bodies have the appearance
of bright stars, but like the sun and moon they are in continual motion across t
he celestial sphere. Unlike the moon and sun, the motion of these planets is no
t uniform. This situation made the ancient Greek observers of them to call the
five planets vagabonds.
Scientific observations of the movements of these planets in right ascen
sion and declination over a very long period of time avail man with some basic f
acts about his cosmic environment:
All the paths the planets travel lie close to the ecliptic, yet they are
not exact great circles.
Two of the planets, Mercury and Venus, travel eastward around the celest
ial sphere at varying rates that place at times ahead and at times behind the su
n. The angle which either makes with the sun is called its elongation. This an
gle never exceeds a well-defined maximum. The other planets are not subject to
such limit in elongation. They, like the moon, pass regularly through points of
opposition (elongation 180o) and points of conjunction (elongation 0o). Mercur
y and Venus are designated as inferior planets, the others as superior planets.
Each planet behaves like a race horse that normally runs counterclockwis
e around its track, but from time to times, comes to a half, trots backward a fr
action of a lap, then reverses its motion again and returns to its normal counte
rclockwise mode of progression. When the right ascension is decreasing the moti
on of the planet is said to be retrograde.
The direction and speed of motion of a planet depend on the relative pos
ition of the planet concerned, the sun and the earth, and not on its location wi
th respect to the stars. A superior planet exhibits retrograde motion when, and
only when, it is on the side of the earth away from the sun at opposition or cl
ose to it. Retrograde motion of the inferior planets occurs at those conjunction
s at which the planet is falling behind the sun.
The variations in the velocity of each planet on the celestial sphere pa
ss through a fairly regular cycle. The time for a complete cycle, i.e. movement
from the onset of the next is called the synodic period of the planet. The wor
d synodic derives from the word "meeting" or "conjunction". For the superior pl
anets the synodic period is the time between successive conjunctions while for
the inferior planets, it is the time between the alternate conjunctions, meaning
between successive conjunctions in which the planet is falling behind the sun.
For example, the average synodic period for Venus is 584 days. For Jupiter it is
399 days.
The apparent brightness of each planet changes with its passage from one
phase of its cyclic motion to another.


How to measure time was one of the most naughty problems requiring a scientific
solution in the early life of man after he had acquired the skill of counting.
It was important to the ancient man to know how soon he might safely plant his c
rops, how soon the birds and fishes would begin to migrate, etc. The answer to
this fundamental needs came through the observation of the heavens. There are t
wo sorts of astronomical phenomena that pass through a regular yearly cycle whic
h have been very useful to the early men in determining time:
shifting of the constellations overhead
from night to night through the year, and

the seasonal north-and-south motion of the

midday sun with its attendant lengthening
and shortening of midday shadows.
The two have been used since the dawn of civilization to fix the seasons and det
ermine the length of the year.
The ancient calendar was based on three natural time units - the day, th
e lunar month, and the year. The ancient Egyptians based their year on observat
ions of the times at which the sun passes Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.
By 4000 B.C. Egyptian priests had fixed the length of the year as 365 days. B
y 2000 B.C. they had observations that indicate that the 365-day year was 6 hour
s too short. Today, an extra day every leap year is used to compensate for the
6 hours. Modern precision measurements fix the length of seasonal year as 365.2
4220 days, or 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46.0 seconds. Present calendar
in use (hence today's legal years of exactly 365 or 366 days) was established i
n 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. The mean Gregorean year is, in truth, 26 seconds l
onger than the seasonal year. Thus, in about 3300 years you have an accumulatio
n of one day discrepancy.
Far back in antiquity, the brighter stars in the sky had been grouped in recogni
sable constellations. Either along the zodiacal belt or elsewhere in the sky. A
great interest was shown in the night sky by those who have learnt to find thei
r way around among the constellations and to recognise some of the named stars a
ssociated with them. A first step in the cosmic education was to learn the use
of star maps. Star maps were very useful in the deserts before the invention of
Today, accurate timekeeping is taken by all for granted. Only very few are awar
e of the astronomic basis of present day time standards. The choice of a fundam
ental procedure for the measurement of time is crucial matter for modern science
and modern technology. The methods employed to determine accurate time are som
e of the things that make modern science and technology possible and tick. Any
instrument used in dividing time into units similar to one another and is used t
o measure time is known as a clock. The motion of the sun in the sky is a natur
al physical system which gives you a natural clock. This natural clock is visib
le to all. It never stops. As such it requires no winding. Both in antiquity
and now, it has always been the primary clock. However, its disadvantages are m
any. Some of them are that at night and or on cloudy days the sun clock cannot
be of help, and the difficulty in using the sun's position to measure small inte
rvals of time accurately. The ceaseless movement of the sun exerts a rhythm on
all life on earth. All need to conform to this. As such, the sun clock, which
defines apparent solar time, turns out to be the natural first choice as a stand
ard timekeeper. The solar (or sundial) time is defined by the hour angle of the
sun reckoned from its upper transit of the meridian, the moon, or from the lowe
r transit - the midnight. Often, the Arabian sundial time, invented about 1000
A.D., is used to measure this.
The second natural clock is found in the motion of the stars. However,
the sun clock and the star clock do not keep pace with each other. The star clo
ck moves more rapidly than the sun clock. One major advantage of the star clock
today is that the star clock had been chosen as the normal standard of good tim
ekeeping. As such, it is used in the regulation of ordinary manufactured clocks
all over the world. Besides, it is said to have made mechanical science possib
Newton's laws of motion correlate the motions of the sun, moon, stars, and plane
ts as seen with the behaviour of the pendulum clocks, spring-driven watches, qua
rtz-crystal clocks, falling bodies, and gyroscopic compasses. They all constitu

te a single comprehensive mechanical scheme. This scheme is based on an imagina

ry "uniform" time scale. And it is at the heart of modern science.
Man-made clocks, capable of measuring small time intervals have been bas
ed on many different repeatable physical processes - the passage of a given amou
nt of sand through an hourglass, or the vibration of a pendulum or a weighted sp
ring. Also, the water clocks invented by the ancient Greeks measured time by th
e volume of water flowing out of an orifice at the back of a small reservoir in
which a constant water level was maintained. All these devices for measuring ti
me were used until the time of Galileo, who invented the pendulum clock in the s
eventeenth century in collaboration with Huyogens. Before then, crude mechanica
l clocks began to be produced in the thirteenth century, while in the fifteenth
century cumbersome portable spring-driven watches called then "Nuremberg eggs" w
ere invented. Contemporary clocks are not only more complex, but are far more a
The moon is the most interesting of all the heavenly bodies. It has therefore at
tracted the attention of man since the dawn of civilization. For a long time, i
t remained the source of awe and superstition. I have already mentioned the pop
ular South East Asian legend about the moon. In brightness, the moon is next to
the sun. Its bright but soft light has been of great service to men across cul
tures and across ages. The familiar cycle of its phases provides man with a thi
rd natural clock and third natural unit time. The lunar month which consists of
221/2 days is a natural unit time.
From night to night the moon follows the sun across the sky but rises ab
out 50 minutes later each night. The moon is always full when opposite the sun.
Moonless nights occur when the moon is passing the sun, i.e., at those times o
f conjunction with the sun. The moon is a sphere shining by reflected sunlight.
Apart from the condition of eclipse, the hemisphere directed toward the sun is
fully illuminated all the time. Relative to the earth the moon rotates more sl
owly than either the stars or the sun. The attraction of the earth is the prima
ry force controlling the motion of the moon.
Only Jupiter, of all the planets, has a surface gravity much larger than
that of the earth. As such it is able to hold a substantially denser atmospher
e. Unlike the Jupiter, the Mars is likely to have a very thin atmosphere becaus
e of its low surface gravity. Like Venus, the Mars goes through striking change
s in brightness during its synodic period. It is brightest when in opposition t
o the sun and overhead at midnight. It is least bright when it approaches conju
nction with the sun. The proposition is in consonance with the Tychonic (Tycho
Brahe's) system of the sixteenth century.
To the question, "why are the sun, moon, and earth spherical?", Aristotle gave a
metaphysical response: "Because the sphere is a perfect figure". In modern ti
me however attempts have been made to provide a scientific answer to this questi
on. The answer is found in the properties of fluids. It is taken that the bodi
es that makeup the solar system are either fluid at the present (Kemble ch. 9 &
6) or have passed through a non-rigid stage in which their shapes were determine
d by forces analogous to those that fix the shape of a fluid drop.
The poin
t here is that the constitution of a fluid (liquid or gas) is such that a sample
in equilibrium under the sole influence of its internal forces must have a sphe
rical form.
Beside the above, another evidence of the earth's spherical form is the
fact that the shadow of the earth as it crosses the face of the moon at a lunar
eclipse is bounded by a circular arc. It is generally believed that Aristotle m
ight have been the first ever to take note of this fact in his work, On the Heav
Generally, talking of the motion of bodies on the earth or near its surface, the

earth is thought of, instinctively, to be without motion and at rest. Precisely

, it is on this assumption that Ptolemy built his geocentric theory of the unive
rse. In this theory the stars were believed to occupy places on a giant sphere
that rotates like a rigid body about the earth's polar axis. The sun was thought
to revolve around the earth on a slightly eccentric circular orbit and the plan
ets move with a combination of uniform circular motions on epicycles and deferen
ts. Taken together they provided the basis for a description of a total motion
in three-dimensional space. Reasonably, this is consistent with observations ma
de from the surface of the earth. Nicolai Copernicus' observation later proved
this to be totally illusive. Thereby introducing the heliocentric conception of
the universe. This was further confirmed and developed by Tycho Brahe, Johanne
s Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, and others.
The asteroids, or minor planets, numbered in the thousands. They are very small
satelites of the sun which (apart from one) are not visible to the naked eye.
Ceres is the largest of them. It is about 460 miles in diameter. It was discov
ered by accident on January 1, 1801 in the evening. Eros was discovered in 1898
. It is a tiny one - just about 15 miles in diameter.
The orbits of these little heavenly bodies are elliptical, like the orbi
ts of the major planets. However they have a wide range of eccentricity and lie
in planes that sometimes tilted appreciably with respect to the plane of the ec

These are fragments of matter. Some small, some large. They are known to have
entered the earth's atmosphere from outer space. The meteors usually heated to
incandescence in their swift flight through the air. Since the temperatures gen
erated are very high, only the larger meteors survive and manage to reach the ea
rth's surface. Chemical examination of meteorites (fallen meteors) shows that t
hey consist largely of iron and nickel. This finding suggests that iron and nic
kel are much more abundant in the cosmos as a whole than in the earth's crust.
Comets are very light satelites that move in highly elongated eccentric orbits a
nd have almost enough energy to escape from the sun at each outward swing from t
he latter. The major axis of the orbit of a comet, its average distance from th
e sun, and its period are thus very large. The famous comet bearing the name of
Edmond Halley, for instance, returns to the neighbourhood of the sun, where it
can be seen, only once in every 75 years.
This is an enormous aggregation of distant stars that is most dense in the direc
tion of Saggitarus. The stars of the Galaxy form a gigantic and slowly rotating
cloud in the form of a disk thickened in the centre. It has been compared with
an enormous pinwheel. The disk is some 100,000 light-years in diameter and 200
0 to 3000 light-years in thickness. The sun is inside the cloud and somewhat mo
re than halfway from the hub to the periphery. The high star density in the con
stellation of Sagittarius locates the galactic centre in that direction. The Mi
lky Way contains vast amount of interstellar hydrogen as well as dust clouds.
Outside the Milky Way are other tremendous concentrations of stars. The
y include the normal external galaxies, formerly known as extragalactic nebulae,
the quasi-stellar radio sources, or quasars, and the blue stellar objects disco
vered by Alan R. Sandage. There are Globular Star Clusters Omega Centauri, the S
piral Galaxy, and the Great Spiral Galaxy.



The study of man's cosmic environment took a new dimension and received great im
petus with the first man-made earth satelite put into orbit in 1957 by the Russi
ans. That was followed by a spaceship with a dog Laila on board. And by April
12, 1961 man took the first space trip on board the spaceship "Vostok" and back
to mother earth safely. The first man ever to undertake the journey into space
and back was Yuri Gagarin, a Russian colonel and test pilot by profession.
Several other trips into space have been undertaken since both by Russian Cosmon
auts and later by American Astronauts. Amongst them are a number of women. How
ever, the first spacewoman was also a Russian woman
Tatyana Terechkova who made
her space flight in June, 1963.
Leonid Leotief, a Russian Cosmonaut, took the first space walk in March, 1965.
About 10 years after man made the first flight into space, American Astronauts l
ed by Armstrong landed on the moon and collected lunar rock samples which were b
rought with them back to earth.
A wholly automated unmanned Russian spacecraft was launched, landed on the moon,
collected samples of lunar rock and returned back to earth with its cargoes. I
t landed at the Baika Nur Spacedrome whence it took off at the start of its jour
ney in February, 1970.
Numerous unmanned spacecrafts have been launched toward and actually landed on M
ars, Venus and Moon within the past forty years by the Russians and the American
s. The Americans launched one such craft toward Jupiter. It was meant to revol
ve round that planet and then move out of its orbit and fly into eternity. Seve
ral hundreds of man-made satelites now orbit the Earth. They are used for variou
s purposes - for communication, weather monitoring, geological survey, spying, e
The first man-made space experimental laboratory was constructed and put
into space about fourteen years ago by the Russians. It weighs 70,000 tons. T
he space laboratory is named "MIR" (literally - "peace"). Since then several ex
periments had been performed there on board. With Russian cosmonauts travelling
there and back in turns. Some spending not more than 3 months, others up to 1
year and more. Food supply and/or new experimental materials are conveyed to th
ose working on board the space laboratory usually, but not as a rule, by unmanne
d cargo spacecrafts.
In recent years, American astronauts and astronauts of other countries h
ave been to, and carried out experiments on board the Russian space laboratory.
The space laboratory "Mir" now said to be old was scheduled to be brought back
to earth in April, 2000. Its initial life-span was said to have been put at abo
ut 7 years. When it descends closer to the surface of the earth in April, 2000
the giant laboratory is expected to burn off and the ashes sink into the Pacific
An international effort to build a new, larger, space laboratory is on n
ow. It is a joint effort among several countries. The first nuclei of the new
laboratory designed and built by the Russians has been launched into space early
in 1999. The second segment designed and built by the Americans has also been
put into space and joined with the segment made by the Russians. It is expected
that other parts would join soon. When completed it would be the first such la
boratory built through the joint effort of several countries and would likely pr
ovide greater opportunity for an enhanced study of man's cosmic environment.
Academician Sergei Korolov, a Russian, was the General Designer of the w
orld's first space rocket systems. He was the founder of practical cosmonautics
- space science.
China and India are the first set of less developed countries that have
acquired space-age technology. They both have designed, developed, built and la
unched into space artificial earth satellites using their own respective ballist
ic missiles independent of one another. On Saturday September 27, 2003 Nigeria m
ade it first in road into space exploration as a Russian Kosmos-3M booster rocke
t successfully launched Nigeria Sat-1 into space. Designed for disaster monitori
ng constellation the Nigeria s first satellite has the capacity for monitoring min
eral resources, etc. The ground control station of the satellite which is being
manned by Nigeria engineers is based in Abuja.

Man's cosmic environment and the attempt to understand man-universe relationship
in the olden days led to the evolvement of myths, legends, superstitions and il
lusions. The emergence of science and man's rigorous scientific study of the co
smic environment has cleared man's illusions and the superstitions. Men have be
en to and back from the space, landed on the moon and journeyed back to earth, s
everal man-made earth satellites now orbit the earth, man-built space research s
tation on board of which several experiments have been conducted successfully fo
r the past 131/2 years still hangs magnificently in space. Satellites are used
to make communication (telephone, radio, television) more effective and efficien
t. They are used also for more accurate weather prediction, etc.

Related Interests