Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome – The Number of the Stars

To count the stars involves a task which lies beyond the power of man. Even without the aid of a telescope we can see a great multitude of stars from any part of the earth. One great astronomer, with the patience to count them, estimated that there are about six thousand visible to the naked eye.

But if you look through even a small telescope, you will be astonished at the enormous multitude of stars that are disclosed.

Take, for instance, the constellation in the north called the Great Bear, or the Great Dipper, circling about the North Star. The dipper is made of four large stars forming a sort of oblong, with three more stars that represent the handle. Now, on a fine clear night, count how many stars you can see within the oblong of the dipper. They are all very faint, but you will be able to see a few ; with good sight you may count perhaps ten. Next, take an opera glass and look in the same place. If you carefully count the stars you can now see within the dipper, you will find fully two hundred. So the opera glass shows you twenty times as many stars as you can see without its aid. A small telescope will show you one hundred times as many as your eyes could reveal. Even now we are only at the beginning of the count ; the very great telescopes add largely to the number.

The Milky Way, the telescope tells us, is made up of multitudes and multitudes of stars, so small and faint that we cannot distinguish them individually; we see only the white glow produced by the millions and millions of stars shining in the broad band.

Adapted from ” Star-Land “