EARLY WEATHER HISTORY

What did the Greeks once speculate about the air?

The Greek philosopher Anaximander (610-546 b.c.e.) speculated—correctly—that air wasn't just nothing, but, in fact, was made of something. However, he went on to suggest that all matter came from air, which could be changed into different states of matter. This idea actually has some basis in truth, since, for example, water can be precipitated out of humid air, and water can evaporate into air. Anaximander just got a little too carried away and took this idea to extremes by saying air could also become fire and a lot of other things.

Who wrote the Meteorológica?

The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 b.c.e.) released his Meteorológica around 340 b.c.e. It was this work that gave us the term "meteorology"; in Aristotle's time, the word meteor referred not just to extraterrestrial rocks entering the atmosphere but rather to anything up in the sky, including clouds, rain, snow, etc. Meteorológica is the first comprehensive text written on the subject, at least in the Western world. Many of the theories expressed in Aristotle's work, however, are based on mythology and other misplaced notions of what causes weather. For instance, the philosopher believed that hurricanes resulted from a "moral conflict" between "evil" and "good" winds.

What was the most important weather book to follow Meteorologica?

Aristotle's student Theophrastus of Eresus (c. 372-287 b.c.e.) continued his mentor's study of weather with his On Weather Signs, a book that became the last word on weather. It was consulted all the way through about the twelfth century, when it was still used by scholars of the Byzantine Empire. As a predictor of weather, the book strove to describe how to tell when rain, wind, and storms were coming. Theophrastus's version of meteorology, though, was still a mix of well-reasoned observation and superstition.

Who first correctly wrote about the structure of snowflakes?

This honor goes to Han Ying, a Han Dynasty scholar who published Moral Discourses Illustrating the Han Text of the Book of Songs in 135 b.c.e. Han correctly described how snowflakes always take on a hexagonal form of some kind (unless the flakes are broken), even though this six-sided fundamental structure has incredible variety. The Western scientific world would not get this right until the seventeenth century, when German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) published A New Year's Gift; or, On the Six-Cornered Snowflake in 1611. English mathematician and astronomer Thomas Harriot (c. 1560-1621) actually correctly described snowflakes' hexagonal form in 1591, but this description was not made public.

What makes the Historia Naturalis important in the history of meteorology?

The Historia Naturalis was written by Pliny the Elder (23-79 c.e.) and contained, among other scientific observations, an ambitious survey of weather conditions from Rome, Greece, Egypt, and Babylon. As with the earlier Meteorologica and On Weather Signs, though, it was still an inaccurate mix of objective science and myth-inspired superstition.

Why was Hero of Alexandria an important figure in the history of meteorology?

We have Hero (c. 10-70 c.e.; also spelled as Heron) to thank for being the first to scientifically prove that air consists of matter. A genius who invented an early steam engine and showed you could harness wind's power with a windmill, Hero showed that air had volume (therefore, matter) with such creations as the pump and the syringe.

What ancient Chinese book first discussed the idea of solar winds?

Although the Chinese discussed the idea of energy from the Sun in terms of the notion of qi energy, the Book of Jin observed back in 635 C.E. that comet tails always pointed away from the Sun. The unknown author understood that this was the result not of wind in our atmosphere, but rather from energy emitted by the Sun itself.

 
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