Every culture has had myths to answer questions about the mysterious lights in the sky, and the sky has held answers to many questions about our lot here on earth: we speak different languages because of a God angry at our hubris in trying to sneak a look at Heaven by building the Tower of Babel.

For many, modern science provides answers to these questions without resorting to myth; there is no doubt, of course, that it often poses as many new questions as it answers. But modern science itself is built on the tentative steps of societies and individuals from the beginning of recorded history who simply sought to find new answers to old questions.

Below is a selected look at some of the events and attitudes throughout history which have led us to where we are today, as we make our first tentative efforts to learn what lies beyond the sky--to make contact.

Scroll to the right to move forward in history.

Mesopotamia, Egypt: Astronomers map the heavens. A 365-day year is established.

In Ionia the first attempts are made to understand the world "scientifically", that is, without recourse to acts of the Gods. Thales learns the bases of astronomy and geometry in Egypt and Babylon. Anaximander sees the Earth as the center of the Universe and theorizes evolution In Abdena, Democritus invents the concept of the atom. Aristotle says the Earth is round.

According to the Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy, the earth is at the center of the Universe. Surrounding it are concentric circles of a clear, pure, transparent substance. The Sun and the Planets orbit the Earth in perfect circular orbits. In 165 A.D. Lucian of Samosata, a Greek satirical author, writes the first recorded story of a flight to the moon.

Halley's comet passes by Earth. The Norman Invasion of England is attributed to its influence.

The Dominican monk Giordano Bruno reasons that God created a vast number of worlds inhabited by beings with souls. The Inquisition is not pleased. He is imprisoned, tortured, excommunicated and burned at the stake.

Galileo improves the telescope and sees clear views of the Moon, several planets, and the Milky Way. His observations support the Copernican view of the Universe, in which the Earth is not the center. The Church is displeased and seeks to discredit him, eventually trying him for heresy. He is forced to denounce his views.

Isaac Newton's Principia contains his theory of gravity

In England Thomas Wright predicts the existence of other galaxies. He sees the Milky Way as a disk of stars all in motion.

Author Jules Verne's "From the Earth to the Moon" is published. The story, written almost one hundred years before the first trip to the moon, is full of amazingly accurate predictions: the lunar vehicle is launched from Florida; the trip lasts 97 hours and two minutes (the actual duration was 102 hours 45 minutes); and the capsule returns to Earth by splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

After several attempts in the preceeding years, Einstein finally publishes his General Theory of Relativity

The age of the universe is estimated at 20 billion years

Apollo 17 takes its famous picture of the Earth. It is fragile, alone, and alive.

In Ancient Greece, nature is at the mercy of the Gods. The band of light across the sky is milk from the breast of Hera; hence, the "Milky Way".

In Rome under Caesar, Lucretius, born in 98 B.C., was the first known philosopher to consider the possibility of life on other planets. He believed the universe to be infinite, and that there was an abundance of life on other planets.

Chinese astronomers record the observation of a supernova.

The Polish astronomer Copernicus publishes his theory shifting the center of the Universe away from the Earth; Copernicus reasoned that the Universe instead revolves around our sun.

Kepler theorizes that planets orbit in elipses, rather than Ptolemy's perfect circles. Kepler defines the universe as "a work of art and the artist is God."
Edmund Halley, a mathematician and astronomer, computes the orbit of the Comet of 1682 and charts its every appearance back to 11 B.C. The comet is now known as Halley's Comet.
Christiaan Huygens makes the first accurate measurements of distances to other stars.

Joseph Michael Montgolfier and broyher Jacques Etienne Montgolfier invent the first lighter-than-air ballon, first using heated air, then hydrogen gas.

Orville and Wilbur Wright make the first powered airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Scientists postulate that the universe is expanding, causing endless consternation in a young Allen Konigsberg of Brooklyn, New York.

On the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong walks on the moon. For the first time in history, a human being set foot on a celestial object other than Earth.


©1997 Warner Bros.