Oldest Maps of the Night Sky Hidden in Medieval Codex: Science Alert

Oldest Maps of the Night Sky Hidden in Medieval Codex: Science Alert

Hipparchus’ lost star catalog – considered the first known attempt to map the entire night sky – can be discovered on parchment preserved in the monastery of St. Catherine in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

In 2012, a student of leading Bible scholar Peter Williams at the University of Cambridge noticed something curious behind the letters of a Christian manuscript he was analyzing.

The student, Jamie Clare, stumbled upon a famous Greek passage that is often attributed Eratosthenes; An Astronomer and Chief Librarian Library of Alexandria (one of the most prestigious places of learning in the ancient world).

In 2017, multispectral imaging of the document revealed nine folios of pages containing an indication of a text that was written. This in itself was not an unusual discovery – parchment was a valuable commodity for centuries, so it was not uncommon for scholars to scrape old skins for reuse.

Poring over second year results too muchWilliams noticed some odd numbers in the St. Catherine’s Monastery folio.

When he gave the page to scientific historians in France, the researchers were shocked. Historian Victor Zisemberg from CNRS, the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris to say At Joe Merchant the nature That “it was immediately clear that we had star coordinates.”

Ancient Egyptian Texts Revealed by Imaging
Original text from St. Catherine’s Monastery on top of faint tracings discovered by multispectral imaging. (Museum of the Bible/Electronic Library of Early Manuscripts/Lazarus Project/University of Rochester/Multispectral Processing by Keith T. Knox/Tracing by Emmanuel Zing)

So how do we know by whom these coordinates were written?

The short answer is we don’t – at least not with absolute certainty. But what experts do know is that Greek astronomers, HipparchusBetween 162 and 127 BC was working on a star catalog of the western world sky.

Several historical texts refer to Hipparchus as the ‘father of astronomy’ and are credited with pioneering how the Earth ‘sinks’ on its axis in what is now known as precession. He is also said to be the first person to calculate the motion of the sun and moon.

Looking at the star map buried behind the parchment text at St. Catherine’s Monastery, the researchers worked backwards to figure out Earth’s progress when the map was written. The star’s coordinates roughly match the expected precession of our planet Around 129 BC, During the lifetime of Hipparchus.

Until this map was found, the oldest known star catalog was compiled by astronomers Claudius Ptolemy In the second century AD, three centuries after Hipparchus.

Hipparchus’ only surviving work is a commentary on an astronomical poem that describes the constellations. Hipparchus gave many coordinates of the stars in it Phenomena comments Closely matches the document of St. Catherine’s Monastery, although the fragmentary text can be difficult to decipher.

The exact coordinates of only one constellation, the Corona Borealis, can be recovered from folios from Egypt, but researchers think the entire night sky was mapped by Hipparchus at some point.

Without a telescope, such work would have been extremely challenging and time intensive.

According to the researchers, the hidden passage reads:

“Corona Borealis, situated in the Northern Hemisphere, in longitude 9°¼ from the first degree of Scorpio to 10°¼8 in the same zodiac (as in Scorpio). In latitude it extends from 49° to 6°¾ north. Pole 55°¾.

Of these, the western star (β CrB) is next to the brighter one (α CrB) (i.e. first rising), at 0.5° Scorpius. The fourth 9 star (ι CrB) ends (i.e. rises) east of the bright one (α CrB). [. . .]10 49° from the North Pole. The southernmost (δ CrB) is the third count from the eastern one (α CrB), which is 55°¾ from the North Pole.”

Notations correspond to ancient Greek terminology. The term ‘longitude’ is based on the east-west extension of a constellation, while ‘latitude’ describes the north-south extension of a constellation.

Compared to Ptolemy’s later work, Hipparchus’ mathematics appears to be much more reliable, within a degree of what modern astronomers would later find. This suggests that Ptolemy did not simply copy the work of Hipparchus.

Another manuscript, a Latin translation Phenomena From the 8th century, the Corona Borealis shares a similar structure and terminology to the passage, suggesting that it is also based on the work of Hipparchus.

The constellations mapped in this document are Ursa Major, Ursa Minor and Draco. Again, many of the star values ​​correspond to those seen in Hipparchus. commentary.

Some astronomers previously suggested that Hipparchus wrote down the original coordinates that were cited in this Latin document, but the discovery of this new text adds more weight to that idea.

“The new fragment makes it a lot clearer,” said Matthew Ossendrejver, a historian of astronomy at the Free University of Berlin. to say the nature.

“This star catalog that has been floating around in the literature almost as a fictional thing has become very solid.”

Researchers are hopeful that clearer texts can be recovered from the monastery’s papers in the future.

The study was published Journal for the History of Astronomy.

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