Fragments of a star catalog from the second century BC were turned into a manuscript that was erased and written down centuries later. A new analysis of religious manuscripts reveals a hidden text probably from the ancient Greek astronomer Hipparchus, whose chart of the stars – thought to be the first attempt at the entire sky – has long since been lost.
I think this casts doubt on the existence of Hipparchus’ catalogue, and confirms that he “measured the coordinates of all the visible stars”, says Victor Gysembergh, a former historian of science at the CNRS, in Paris. He and his colleagues reported the discovery in Nov Journal of the History of Astronomy.
The manuscript that concealed the fragments was called a palimpsest, or obliterated and palimpsested membrane The Climatic Code Rewritten. The pad probably came from the monastery of St. Catherine of Sinai in Egypt, and is most likely now in the Museum of the Bible in Munich, DC.
The visible scripture is a Christian text called the Stairway to Paradise. But the shadows of the former symbols were seen behind her. In 2017, researchers with the Early Manuscripts Electronics Library in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., and the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York took digital images in many wavelengths of light, from many different angles. This technique is called multispectral imaging and is used to analyze palimpsests and other damaged books.SN: 10/3/07). The ancient ink that reflected the light, or that made the ink fluoresce, illuminated the hidden text. Once the pages are digitized, researchers all over the world can study them without leaving their computers.
Peter Williams, a biblical scholar at the University of Cambridge, was studying the papers he drew in one of the e-coVID-19 lockdowns. He and his team had previously been found under the main text of ancient astronomy poems. At this time he also discovered something like an astronomical measure.
Williams de Gysembergh and the historian Emanuel Zingg of the Sorbonne University in Paris reached out for help. Gysembergh immediately thought of Hipparchus.
Hipparchus was a Greek astronomer and mathematician who, between the years of about 190 and 120 BC, indirect evidence suggests that he made the first catalog of stars, which uniquely defined two coordinate positions in the sky rather than describing the positions of the stars relative to each other.
“I believe that most scholars have such a catalog,” says Mathieu Ossendrijver, a historian of astronomy at the Free University of Berlin, who was not involved in the new work. But the best evidence comes from cheap translations or references in more recent catalogs, such as the astronomy of Claudius Ptolemy in Alexandria, Egypt, four centuries after Hipparchus.
To prove the idea that the fragment belonged to the Catalogus of Hipparchus, Gysenberghi and his colleagues first carefully interpreted the revealed passage. “It was a lot, can you read this? I can’t,” said Gysembergh. “We didn’t want to rely on all the letters, every single number.”
It became a place in the description of the constellation Corona Borealis, the northern crown, the numerical coordinates for several of its stars. Coordinates are unusual notes that were used by Hipparchus and no one else.
Then researchers used planetary programs to calculate where those stars would have been in the sky in 129 BC, when Hipparchus lived and worked. In this way they equated the notations of the ancient manuscripts to one level.
“It is quite clear that the original part of Hipparchus’ catalog is not much distorted, well-preserved, and well-transcribed,” says Ossendrijver. “It’s a really important discovery.”
Astronomers in ancient Babylonia may have had their own catalog of stars, which was also written down earlier, says Ossendrijver. “No” [Hipparchus] did they pick up the idea of making a catalog perhaps from the Babylonians, and perhaps also some concrete marks?”
It is hoped that Gysembergh will be able to translate more of Hipparchus’ catalog into other parts of it The Climatic Code Rewritten, or in other tissues that have not yet been analyzed with multispectral imaging. “More,” he said. “We barely scratched the surface.”
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