Who was the first person to recognize the stars as very distant suns?

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In summary: See @glappkaeft #3 for correction !The white swath of the Milky Way was shown to be a galaxy by Galileo in 1610.
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The stars at night are very distant suns.This must have been a great leap in imagination.
The first person to realize the night sky is filled with stars similar to our sun was a great leap in imagination. Cassini in 1672 measured the sun distance by parallax measurement of Mars so I assume he knew. But you didn't have to know the solar distance to speculate that the stars were more distant suns. A sun-centered solar system is helpful. Did Copernicus speculate on this? Did Galileo suggest this? A sun centered solar system was contrary to the Church teaching at the time. I would think that there are thousands of suns would be equally disruptive.
 
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This dates back at least to Aristarchus of Samos 450BC

=>See @glappkaeft #3 for correction !
 
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hutchphd said:
This dates back at least to Aristarchus of Samos 450BC
Almost, Aristarchus of Samos wasn't born until 310 BC but Anaxagoras had similar ideas around 450 BC.

 
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We only know of the early ideas that provoked a response, and of which reports have survived, being passed down through several eras of records.

The innovator will be persecuted by the State and the Church only when the novel idea matures, to become a firm conviction. That appears to have become our measure of novelty, since the innovator was prepared to argue and die for their belief.
 
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glappkaeft said:
Almost, Aristarchus of Samos wasn't born until 310 BC but Anaxagoras had similar ideas around 450 BC.

From what I found, Anaxagoras did not believe stars were the same as the sun, and had no idea of extreme distances. He thought the sun was a red hot metallic ball, and that stars were heated fragments ejected from earth, with distance not specified. He also believed the earth was flat.

I do know that William Herschel proposed this (that stars were like the sun, only very distant), even deducing the shape of the milky way, proposing nebulae were composed of stars, and that distant stars would have planets that may have life. At the time, in the UK at least, these ideas were all considered new and radical.
 
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Thecla said:
TL;DR Summary: The stars at night are very distant suns.This must have been a great leap in imagination.

The first person to realize the night sky is filled with stars similar to our sun was a great leap in imagination. Cassini in 1672 measured the sun distance by parallax measurement of Mars so I assume he knew.
I do not believe Cassini had any idea of the nature and distance of stars.
Thecla said:
But you didn't have to know the solar distance to speculate that the stars were more distant suns. A sun-centered solar system is helpful. Did Copernicus speculate on this? Did Galileo suggest this? A sun centered solar system was contrary to the Church teaching at the time. I would think that there are thousands of suns would be equally disruptive.
It appears to me the reverse. Knowledge of order of distances in the solar system seems to have long predated speculation that stars were the same as the sun and might have their own planets
 
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hutchphd said:
This dates back at least to Aristarchus of Samos 450BC

=>See @glappkaeft #3 for correction !
This appears to be true, unlike the claim about anaxagoras. So I go with this as the best candidate so far. Note also, that before this speculation, aristarchus worked out estimates of solar system distances, and adopted a heliocentric model. Thus, though maybe forgotten or ignored for a long time, his discovery path followed the pattern of first understand the solar system, then you begin to speculate about stars.
 
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Although primarily an oral tradition with some support from ancient lithographs and cave paintings, some Native American (First People) folk stories include distant suns. Translation problems abound exacerbated by filtering native folklore through European religious interpretation.

I was taught that both 'invader' tribes such as Lakota and established agricultural communities such as the Ree compared the Sun to a large dense fire, a source of light and warmth, and the fixed stars as similar but distant suns.
 
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Yes, the idea that the stars were distant suns has been around for thousands of years, so we can say that the real question here is, why was it so widely rejected by almost all astronomers who were introduced to the idea? One can try to look at the reasons that Aristarchus' heliocentric model was rejected by his peers, but unfortunately, no debate on those reasons has survived. An incorrect answer we often see is the absence of observable stellar parallax, but Aristarchus' model already accounted for that by making the stars so far away-- they certainly can't be suns unless they are so far that no parallax would be seen anyway. So what was the real reason that this idea was so slow to take hold, even after Galileo showed that the white swath of the Milky Way resolves into individual stars in a telescope?

I suspect we will never know, because very little of that ancient debate actually survives. Certainly the ancient Greeks did not have access to any data that could resolve the issue, it would always have to come down to one's world view, just as heliocentrism vs. geocentrism did. Ironically, general relativity tells us that latter distinction is purely one of the chosen coordinates, whereas the fact that stars are distant suns is an actually testable issue, and is demonstrable from their spectra and their parallax, neither of which were accessible to the ancients. Maybe we should start in good old England, and try to understand why even in the time of Herschel, the idea had still not caught on! No doubt it required better spectrographs to prove, but why was it always so philosophically objectionable that it was not immediately expected to be true? We generally favor unification, so why not for stars and the Sun?
 
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The first person to be executed for saying so was this guy:

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Well, there have been "martyrs for science" long, long before Bruno! I'll bet the first one was a caveman, cavewoman, or cave-nonbinary. And it doesn't have to be because of some religion, it's just the nature of the battle between discovery and fear of change. Science has always had the potential of being rather frightening because it is built to challenge what you think you know. Imagine going from a universe that is like a large room in which you live in one corner, to one which is so vast that it contains perhaps 10^18 or more planets much like yours that are each one vastly larger than anything you will ever experience in your life! I'm not condoning putting people to death for suggesting it, I'm just pointing out that we all learned this early in our lives when our minds were flexible, it must be quite a shock for anyone to try to undergo that conversion after adulthood!

Science is a double-edged sword, where its awe and wonder come alongside shock and fear. In our efforts to promote the first we must also take pains to mitigate the second, and I think this is the answer to why it took so long to accept that stars are suns-- even among astronomers.
 
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Ken G said:
Well, there have been "martyrs for science" long, long before Bruno!
I don't disagree.

But he was one of the earlier documented advocate of the scientific position in question after the fall of the Roman Empire. And, the views of some of the other early articulators of that position were lost to the people who were the antecedents of modern astronomy before this concept was rediscovered and before earlier articulations of this position were located and widely available to people inquiring about these matters. So, he was particularly early in terms of people articulating this position who are in continuity with modern astronomy.

Furthermore, while Bruno clearly wasn't the first martyr for science (for example, Socrates comes to mind as a prominent counterexample), he may have been the first person executed for these particular scientific beliefs related to astronomy (many people were executed far earlier for heretical beliefs about trans-substantiation).
 
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He was executed for falsifying the Bible, thusly undermining the credibility of the dominant political institution of Europe. The discovery of fossils led to such a crisis in the late 19th century with a huge loss of prestige to the Church. Note that this did not occur with the other major religions, possibly because they had and have no corrupt central institution rigidly enforcing dogma.

If you think about it, the idea that stars light years away can be seen with the naked eye is quite incredible. It is only possible because of the quantized nature of the electromagnetic field. Within our galaxy, the energy of a quantum event remains almost constant no matter how great the distance traveled. This was completely unexpected.

I can't resist noting that Adolph Hitler believed the stars were chunks of ice reflecting the light of the Sun.
 
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