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PBS Series Takes Astronomy Buffs Back in Time With 'Ancient Skies'

Our ancestors spent millennia looking at the sky before spacecraft could explore it. The new PBS series "Ancient Skies" will explore the science, engineering and experiments that preceded modern times. The three-part series airs Wednesdays, starting July 24, at 8 p.m. EDT.

"'Ancient Skies' will provide a tantalizing look at humankind's understanding of our place in the cosmos, including when imagination alone allowed us to slip to the surly bonds of Earth, until the advent of telescopes and eventually a space rocket opened new windows into the universe and beyond," PBS said in a statement.

The first episode, "Gods and Monsters" (airs July 24), explores ancient creation myths and the birth of astronomy. As experts in the series explain, monuments such as Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza were likely constructed to help observe the skies. Viewers will learn about the Nebra sky disk (believed to be the first known sky map, from 3,500 years ago), as well as scientific cultures in places ranging from Babylonia to Ancient Greece.

Related: Our Solar System: A Photo Tour of the Planets 

The second episode, "Finding the Center" (July 31), explains how astronomers figured out the structure of our solar system and the size of our Earth. An Earth-centered model of the universe persisted for 1,500 years after it was created by Ptolemy, a first-century Greco-Roman scientist. It wasn't until the Renaissance that scientists such as Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei showed proof for heliocentrism, or the idea that the planets moved around the sun. The invention of the telescope also showed that other planets have moons.

The third episode, "Our Place in the Universe" (airs Aug. 7) brings viewers closer to the modern age. As PBS explains: "The series breaks through the spheres that defined the skies for millennia, abandons the long-held idea of circular orbits, discovers new neighbors in the solar system and begins to comprehend the enormity of the ever-growing universe."

This series is one of several new ones airing on PBS as part of its "Summer of Space," which tells stories from around the solar system in a multimedia format.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is pursuing a Ph.D. part-time in aerospace sciences (University of North Dakota) after completing an M.Sc. (space studies) at the same institution. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @HowellSpace.