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Ancient sky calculator awes scientists

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  • AncientStar
    Ancient sky calculator awes scientists Nov. 29, 2006 Courtesy Cardiff University and World Science staff A group of sci­en­tists claims to have
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2006

      Ancient sky calculator awes scientists

      Nov. 29, 2006
      Courtesy Cardiff University
      World Science staff

      A group of sci­en­tists claims to have un­rav­elled the se­crets of a 2,000-year-old com­put­er, which they say could trans­form the way we think about the an­cient world.

      Mike Ed­munds and Tony Freeth of Car­diff Uni­ver­si­ty in Car­diff, U.K., led the team whose mem­bers be­lieve they have fi­nal­ly cracked the work­ings of the An­ti­ky­thera Mech­an­ism, a clock-like as­tro­nom­i­cal cal­cu­la­tor from the sec­ond cen­tu­ry B.C.

      Di­vers ex­plor­ing a ship­wreck off the is­land of An­ti­ky­thera at the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry found  rem­nants of a bro­ken wood­en and bronze case con­tain­ing more than 30 gears. 

      Sci­en­tists have been try­ing to re­con­struct it ev­er since. The new re­search sug­gests it is more so­phis­ti­cat­ed than an­y­one thought.

      De­tailed study of the gears show the mech­an­ism could track as­tro­nom­i­cal move­ments with re­mark­a­ble pre­ci­sion, Ed­munds and col­leagues said. The de­vice could fol­low the sun’s and moon’s move­ments through the Zo­di­ac, a belt-like re­gion of the heav­ens sur­round­ing the plane of the earth’s or­bit and of the sun’s ap­par­ent an­nu­al path.

      The machine could al­so pre­dict eclipses and rec­re­ate the ir­reg­u­lar or­bit of the moon, the re­search­ers said, and might have pre­dicted the po­si­tions of some or all of the plan­ets.

      The find­ings sug­gest Greek tech­nol­o­gy was far more ad­vanced than pre­vi­ously thought, Ed­munds and Freeth said: no oth­er civ­i­li­sa­tion is known to have made an­y­thing as com­pli­cat­ed for anoth­er thou­sand years.

      “This de­vice is just ex­traor­di­nary, the on­ly thing of its kind. The de­sign is beau­ti­ful, the as­tron­o­my is ex­act­ly right. The way the me­chan­ics are de­signed just makes your jaw drop. Whoev­er has done this has done it ex­treme­ly well,” Ed­munds said.

      The team used a new, pow­er­ful X-Ray com­put­er tech­nol­o­gy to help them study cor­rod­ed frag­ments of the ma­chine. Com­put­er gi­ant Hewlett-Packard Corp. pro­vid­ed im­ag­ing tech­nol­o­gy to en­hance the sur­face de­tails of the ma­chine.

      The mech­an­ism is in over 80 pieces and stored in con­trolled con­di­tions in Ath­ens where it can­not be touched. Recre­at­ing its work­ings was a dif­fi­cult, pains­tak­ing pro­cess, in­volv­ing as­tro­no­mers, math­e­mati­cians, com­put­er ex­perts, script an­a­lysts and conserva­tion ex­perts, Ed­munds and col­leagues said.

      The team is to un­veil its full find­ings at a two-day in­ter­na­tion­al con­fer­ence in Ath­ens from No­vem­ber 30 to De­cem­ber 1. The re­search al­so ap­pears in the Nov. 30 is­sue of the jour­nal Na­ture. The re­search­ers are now hop­ing to cre­ate a com­put­er mod­el of how the ma­chine worked, and, in time, a full work­ing rep­li­ca. It is still un­cer­tain what the an­cient Greeks used the mech­an­ism for, or how wide­spread this tech­nol­o­gy was, they said.

      “It does raise the ques­tion what else were they mak­ing at the time. In terms of his­tor­ic and scar­ci­ty val­ue, I have to re­gard this mech­an­ism as be­ing more val­u­a­ble than the Mo­na Lisa,” Ed­munds said.


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