A medieval manuscript has been found to contain the world's oldest known map of stars
By: April Carson
For over two millennia, Greek astronomer Hipparchus' mapping of the stars was humanity's earliest example of assigning numerical coordinates to celestial bodies. Despite its fame and place in astronomical history, the only record we have of it is through Claudius Ptolemy--another famous astronomer who compiled his own list of stars 400 years later.
But things are different now.
Researchers have discovered fragments of Hipparchus' lost historical document hidden in a medieval manuscript. This is an exciting discovery that could shed new light on the history of the world.
"The findings are important because they show that the ancients had a much more sophisticated understanding of the heavens than was previously thought," said researcher Dr. Michael A. Rappenglueck of the University of Munich.
Last week, a study was published in the journal History of Astronomy which stated that "This new evidence is the most authoritative to date and allows major progress in the reconstruction of Hipparchus' Star Catalogue." This could mean great things not only for our understanding of how Hipparchus attempted to map out the night sky, but also for astronomy as a whole.
The new evidence comes in the form of a map of the stars, found in a medieval manuscript. The map is thought to date back to around 1337 AD, making it over 600 years old. It is believed to be a copy of an even older map, created by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus.
The renowned Hipparchus, known as the father of trigonometry and greatest astronomer to have come from ancient Greece, appears to have created parts of a star map. These remnants can be seen in the 10th or 11th century book called Codex Climaci Rescriptus. This Syriac text was written on parchment pages that were recycled by being erased so they could be reused; however, proof of their former contents are still visible. The Codex was retrieved from the Greek Orthodox Saint Catherine's Monastery, which is located on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. The Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC now owns most of its pages.
A joint effort between the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library in California and the Lazarus Project at Rochester Institute of Technology has resulted in the reclamation of text and measurements from obscurity using multispectral imaging, a process that shines various wavelengths of light onto an object. Using this technology, the researchers have been able to "see through" the pages of the Codex and make out much of what was previously unreadable.
After decoding the descriptions of four constellations, researchers from Sorbonne Universite and the University of Cambridge discovered what may be evidence of Hipparchus' cartography. Not only does this unveil his possible methods, butteam also says that the newly revealed numerical coordinates are highly consistent with those of actual stars.
This is a remarkable discovery, as it not only sheds light on the methods used by Hipparchus, but also provides concrete evidence that he was indeed the first to map the stars in such a way. It also underscores the importance of multispectral imaging in uncovering hidden details in medieval manuscripts.
Given that the astronomers are working with a limited sample, it's possible there are errors in Hipparchus' Star Catalogue. However, if the data is accurate, this would make Hipparchus' catalogue more precise than Ptolemy's Almagest--an astronomy manual written much later.
According to the scientists, the Codex Climaci Rescriptus could still reveal additional Hipparchus observations about stars. The researchers are planning to study the manuscript further in hopes of learning more about the great astronomer's work.
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April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
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