The Song of Urania is a podcast about the history of astronomy from antiquity to the present. New episodes are released every full moon. The goal of the podcast is to deeply understand the development of the oldest of the sciences — astronomy. The podcast examines not only the ideas that succeeded, but also those that failed. I want to know what questions astronomers were interested in over the ages and how they tried to answer those questions.
Who am I?
My name is Joe Antognini. I have a B.S. in astrophysics from Caltech and a Ph.D. in astronomy from Ohio State, but no formal training in history apart from a few classes I took in college. These days I no longer do astronomy professionally, but work at a startup called Whisper where we are using machine learning to make a better hearing aid.
Where to find it
You should be able to find The Song of Urania wherever you get your podcasts, including the following places:
Or you can use a good old fashioned RSS link here:
I use a variety of sources for each episode. For the earlier episodes that cover ancient astronomy (particularly Babylonian astronomy) I unfortunately have to rely on secondary sources more heavily than I would like. But as we come closer to modern times I hope to read through more of the primary sources.
Below is a partial list of sources that I have generally found useful for the history of astronomy. In the future I will also include sources specific to particular episodes in each episode’s webpage.
- Aaboe, Asger: Episodes from the Early History of Astronomy (2001). This book explains the math behind Babylonian planetary calculations and the Ptolemeic model.
- Dreyer, John Louis Emil: A History of Astronomy from Thales to Kepler (1906). An excellent broad overview of the history of astronomy up to the time of Kepler with a particular focus on the Greeks.
- Heath, Thomas: Aristarchus of Samos (1913). This is a far broader history of astronomy than its title suggests. Heath covers the ideas of many Greek astronomers in detail, culminating in Aristarchus of Samos.
- Heath, Thomas: Greek Astronomy. A collection of excerpts from the primary sources of Greek astronomy.
- Kelley, David & Milone, Eugene: Exploring Ancient Skies (2011). An up-to-date survey of archaeoastronomical research, covering the astronomy of cultures across the globe.
- Magli, Giulio: Archaeoastronomy (2016). An introduction into the methods of archaeoastronomy, along with a brief survey of the astronomy of Egypt, the Americas, the Greeks, and Paleolithic peoples in the Mediterranean.
- Mason, Stephen: A History of the Sciences (1962). A broad and now somewhat dated history of science from the Babylonians to the 1800s.
- McLeod, Alexus: Astronomy in the Ancient World (2016). A survey of the astronomy of ancient China, pre-Colombian America, India, and Europe.
- Neugebauer, Otto: Astronomy and History: Selected Essays (1983). An anthology of papers written by one of the great 20th century scholars of Babylonian astronomy.
- Oestmann, Günther, Rutkin, H. Darrel, & von Stuckrad, Kocku: Horoscopes and Public Spheres: Essays on the History of Astrology (2005). A collection of essays on the history of astrology, covering Greek, Hebrew, Babylonian, Islamic, and European astrology.
- Pannekoek, Anton: A History of Astronomy (1961). A broad and fairly detailed history of western astronomy from the Babylonians up to the early 1900s. If you had to choose one book to read, I would recommend this one.
- Pecker, Jean-Claude: Understanding the Heavens (2001). A history of how cosmological ideas have changed from the time of the ancient Greeks to the late 20th century.
- Selin, Helaine: Astronomy across Cultures (2000). An anthology of essays on the astronomy of a number of non-Western cultures, including the astronomy of Tibet, Korea, and sub-Saharan Africa.
- Thurston, Hugh: Early Astronomy (1994). An introduction to the astronomy of the ancient West (though a chapter on Mesoamerica is also included).