Ancient Greek Astronomer’s Long-lost Star Catalog Discovered: The Oldest Known Map Of The Stars Was Found In A Medieval Book!

A star map made by Greek astronomer Hipparchus that has been missing for centuries may have been found, in what seems like a scene from an Indiana Jones film.

Astronomy historian James Evans describes the finding of the potential map on a preserved piece of mediaeval parchment that was formerly kept at a Greek Orthodox monastery as “unique” and “extraordinary” in a research study that was published this week in the Journal for the History of Astronomy.

Hipparchus, who is credited with founding trigonometry, lived from 190 to 120 BCE. The precession of the equinoxes, or when the Earth wobbles on its axis of rotation due to the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun on the planet’s equatorial bulge, was another discovery made by him. Additionally, it is commonly accepted that he created a map of the entire night sky without the need for a telescope. After Hipparchus may have mapped the sky, the telescope wouldn’t be created until 1608, which is more than 1,400 years later.

The majority of the 146 leaves, or folios, of the manuscript, which was formerly housed at St. Catherine’s Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, were given to the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, in 2012. The Codex Climaci Rescriptus, a collection of Syriac manuscripts from the 10th or 11th century, is contained in this manuscript. The codex, on the other hand, is an illustration of a palimpsest, which is a parchment that has had older text removed so that it can be reused.

The ancient writing on the parchment was thought to include additional Christian writings. Ten years ago, University of Cambridge professor and biblical expert Peter Williams urged students to analyse the manuscript’s pages as part of their summer projects. When reading it, student Jamie Klair unintentionally came across a Greek text that had previously been credited to the astronomer Eratosthenes. In 2017, the pages were examined more closely using multispectral photography. Each page was photographed 42 times using a different wavelength of light, and computer algorithms looked for patterns of frequencies that would enhance the deep-in-the-document concealed text.

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Nine of the folios revealed astronomical information. The research surmises that some of this information was probably written in the fifth or sixth centuries based on radiocarbon dating and writing type analysis. The folio contains Eratosthenes’ tales concerning the birth of stars as well as fragments of Phaenomena, a poem written in the third century that explains the constellations. Williams saw something more peculiar during the COVID-19 lockdown. He got in touch with Victor Gysembergh, a science historian at the French National Scientific Research Centre (CNRS). Gysembergh admits to being “extremely thrilled from the outset” in an interview with Nature. We had star coordinates, which was instantly obvious.

The lengthy portion on the website that lists the Corona Borealis’ length and width in degrees as well as the coordinates for the stars that lie at its furthest north, south, east, and west points were analysed by Gysembergh and his colleague Emmanuel Zingg at the Sorbonne University.

The accuracy of the ancient astronomer’s observations is one of the signs that Hipparchus is the author of this star map, albeit it cannot be proven with absolute certainty. Even experts have trouble deciphering the ancient and disjointed text, but many of the coordinates match the ones Hipparchus ascribed to the stars in his Commentary on the Phaenomena nearly match the Egyptian document.

The sole constellation with legible coordinates in the manuscript is Corona Borealis, but researchers hope to recover others from these folios and think it is possible that Hipparchus charted the entire night sky.

The discovery, in Evans’ words, “enriches our picture” of Hipparchus. We get a great view of what he actually did thanks to this.

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