More than 2,100 years ago, the Greek astronomer Hipparchus mapped the stars – and for a long time, his document was considered the first human attempt to assign numerical coordinates to stellar bodies. But despite its fame, the existence of the treatise was known only through the writings of another famous astronomer, Claudius Ptolemy, who compiled his celestial inventory some 400 years later.
So far, that is.
Researchers believe they have found fragments of a lost historical document of Hipparchus hidden in a medieval manuscript.
“This new evidence is the most reliable to date and allows significant progress to be made in reconstructing Hipparchus’ catalog of stars,” said a study on the discovery published in the History of Astronomy last week. The discovery could shed new light not only on Hipparchus’ attempt to map the night sky through accurate measurements and calculations, but also on the history of astronomy.
Hipparchus, also known as the father of trigonometry, is often considered the greatest astronomer of ancient Greece. Portions of his star chart appear to have appeared in the Codex Climaci Rescriptus, a book of Syriac texts written in the 10th or 11th centuries whose pages were erased so they could be reused (a common recycling practice at the time), but still bear clear traces. to its previous form. This particular parchment came from the Greek Orthodox monastery of St. Catherine in the Egyptian Sinai, although the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. now owns most of the manuscript papers.
Teams from the Electronic Library of Early Manuscripts in California and the Lazarus Project at Rochester Institute of Technology revealed the obscured text and measurements using many wavelengths of light, a technique known as multispectral imaging.
Subsequently, researchers from the Sorbonne University and the University of Cambridge were able to decipher the descriptions of four star groups. Not only has the mapping of Hipparchus been unveiled, but the team also said the recently uncovered digital evidence is largely consistent with that. truly stellar coordinates.
This would make Hipparchus’ catalog more accurate than Ptolemy’s later astronomy handbook, although the researchers acknowledge that they work with a small sample and that large errors can be found in parts of Hipparchus’s star catalog that have not yet survived or been detected. .
Scientists say Codex Climaci Rescriptus can still reveal more of Hipparchus’ stellar observations.
Advanced digital technologies continue to restore vital parts of cultural heritage in documents that the human eye cannot see due to damage, deterioration, or intentional erasure.
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