Who was Aristarchus of Samos? - Greek Astronomy - Heliocentrism
Welcome to Quatr.us Study Guides!

Who was Aristarchus?

Aristarchus manuscript
A copy of Aristarchus' work on parchment from
Constantinople, about 950 AD, showing the
relative sizes of the sun, the Earth, and the moon

Aristarchus, who was born on the Greek island of Samos around 310 BC, spent most of his life working at the University of Alexandria in Egypt. Aristarchus is the first person we know of who suggested that the earth might go around the sun and not the other way around.

Aristarchus figured out that the earth went around the sun by looking at the shadow of the earth on the moon during an eclipse of the moon (now that Thales had shown how to predict eclipses and Anaxagoras had shown how eclipses worked). He used Euclid's geometric theories, and his own, to do his calculations.

Some scientists at the time thought this was ridiculous, and instead followed Aristotle's idea that the sun went around the earth. But others followed Aristarchus. First Archimedes, and then Al-Ghazali and other Islamic astronomers took Aristarchus (arr-iss-TAR-kuss) seriously.

Aristarchus also used the work of Eratosthenes to figure out the size of the moon, and to calculate that the sun had to be a lot bigger than either the earth or the moon (though he didn't get the sizes right because he didn't have a good telescope). Aristarchus also realized for the first time that the stars must be very far away, much farther than the sun or the moon, but again, he couldn't prove it without a good telescope.

Learn by doing: the earth-sun-moon dance
More Greek ideas about the Earth and the Sun

Bibliography and further reading about Aristarchus:

Greek and Roman Science, by Don Nardo (1998). Nardo has written a lot of good books about the ancient world for kids; this one is no exception.

Ancient Science: 40 Time-Traveling, World-Exploring, History-Making Activities , by Jim Wiese (2003). Activities, as the title says - how to make your own sundial, and so on. The author is a science teacher.

Early Greek Science: Thales to Aristotle, by Geoffrey Lloyd (1974).

History of Greek Mathematics: From Aristarchus to Diophantus, by Thomas L. Heath (1921, reprinted 1981). A lot of Euclid, but also describes who the other major Greek mathematicians were and what they did.

Episodes from the Early History of Mathematics, by Asger Aaboe (1997).

More about Archimedes
Ancient Greece
Quatr.us home

LIMITED TIME OFFER FOR TEACHERS: Using this article with your class? Show us your class page where you're using this article, and we'll send you a free subscription so all your students can use Quatr.us Study Guides with no distractions! (Not a teacher? Paid subscriptions are also available for just $16/year!)
Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Quatr.us Study Guides
  • Publisher: Quatr.us
  • Date Published:
Did you find what you needed? Ask your teacher to link to this page so other people can use it too! Send it in and win a Quatr.us "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in Quatr.us' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article

Does your class page honor diversity, celebrate feminism, and support people of color, LBGTQ people, and people with disabilities? Let us know, and we'll send you a Diversity Banner you can proudly display!
Looking for more?
Quatr.us is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Quatr.us Study Guides, . Web. 28 April, 2017