Scientists discover the world's oldest catalog of stars: a rare and unexpected discovery

Scientists discover the world’s oldest catalog of stars: a rare and unexpected discovery

Part of the Star Catalog Most of the papers(s) are in the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC.Bible Museum of Sculpture, 2021

“My first reaction was: Wow!” says Dutch astronomer Matthew Osendrijver, affiliated with the Free University of Berlin.

In the second century AD, the Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy included a list of descriptions and positions of more than a thousand stars in his famous Almagest. But there is plenty of evidence that Hipparchus actually compiled such a catalog less than three centuries ago. However, copies of it have not yet been found.

Hipparchus was born around 190 BC on the northern coast of present-day Turkey, but made many of his astronomical observations from the Greek island of Rhodes. He discovered, among other things, that the position of the Earth’s rotation axis changes very slowly over thousands of years. “It could be said that Hipparchus was the greatest astronomer before Copernicus,” said Bradley Schaefer of Louisiana State University.

“This discovery is unexpected and rare,” Ossendrijver says. It is what is called a diamond – parchment that has been initially scraped clean and then overwritten with another (Christian) text. So part of the star catalog has been largely scraped and can only be made legible again using special techniques.

Quoted text

The parable is part of the Codex Climaci Rescriptus, a manuscript from Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, most of which is now in the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. Victor Gisemberg and Emmanuel Zing of the Sorbonne in Paris and Peter Williams of the University of Cambridge published the discovery of the quoted text this week in the Official Gazette. Journal of the history of astronomy.

Hipparchus’ star catalog may have originally contained about 850 stars. The recovered fragment (a copy of the fifth or sixth century) contains the coordinates of only four stars, in the constellation Crown of the North. The researchers hope to find more in other tarpaulins.

According to archaeological company Jona Lendering, the Museum of the Bible was once convicted of buying stolen artifacts, and there have been earlier reports of ancient papyrus forgeries. “But this Codex has been known for decades,” he says, “and there’s no way a fake could make a perfect tartare from a century ago. I think it’s kosher.”

absolute certainty

Although, according to the astronomer Schaefer, it cannot be proven that the text actually goes back to Hipparchus, this seems very plausible. “The style of writing and the coordinate system used are consistent with those of Hipparchus’s only surviving book,” he says. Moreover, the coordinates correspond to the positions of the stars around 130 BC, when Hipparchus is said to have made his catalog.

According to the discoverers, the coordinates of the stars are more accurate than those in the catalog of stars for Ptolemy in the Almagest. This means that Ptolemy did not rely entirely on Hipparchus’ work in any way, as he has often suggested.

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