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ERIC Number: EJ1025123
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2013-Nov
Pages: 4
Abstractor: As Provided
ISSN: ISSN-0031-921X
Seeing Earth's Orbit in the Stars: Parallax and Aberration
Timberlake, Todd K.
Physics Teacher, v51 n8 p478-481 Nov 2013
During the 17th century the idea of an orbiting and rotating Earth became increasingly popular, but opponents of this view continued to point out that the theory had observable consequences that had never, in fact, been observed. Why, for instance, had astronomers failed to detect the annual parallax of the stars that "must" occur if Earth orbits the Sun? To address this problem, astronomers of the 17th and 18th centuries sought to measure the annual parallax of stars using telescopes. None of them succeeded. Annual stellar parallax was not successfully measured until 1838, when Friedrich Bessel detected the parallax of the star 61 Cygni. But the early failures to detect annual stellar parallax led to the discovery of a new (and entirely unexpected) phenomenon: the aberration of starlight. This paper recounts the story of the discovery of stellar aberration. It is accompanied by a set of activities and computer simulations that allow students to explore this fascinating historical episode and learn important lessons about the nature of science.
American Association of Physics Teachers. One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740. Tel: 301-209-3300; Fax: 301-209-0845; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A