November 28, 2022


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Did you find the old star catalog?  Hipparchus of Nicaea really did the impossible

Did you find the old star catalog? Hipparchus of Nicaea really did the impossible

scholars who CNRSand the Sorbonne and the University of Cambridge fragments from a catalog of stars created by Hipparchus in the second century BC. Texts erased from the manuscript in the Middle Ages have been found to reuse pages using multispectral imaging. Study published in Journal of the History of Astronomy It sheds new light on ancient astronomy.

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hidden and discovered

The Hipparchus Star Catalog is an ancient astronomical treatise written between 170 and 120 BC by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus of Nicaea, who is credited with many important scientific discoveries, including measuring the distance between the Earth and the Moon, discovering the phenomenon of precession, introducing meridians and parallels, Or measure the time of the earth’s revolution around the sun. His catalog of 1080 stars is the oldest known attempt to determine the exact location of fixed stars by assigning them numerical coordinates.

Codex Climaci Rescriptus / Photo. Peter Malik, CNRS

Until now, this text was known only from the writings of Claudius Ptolemy, another ancient astronomer who composed his own catalog some 400 years after Hipparchus. Now an international team of scientists has deciphered the descriptions of four constellations from the Hipparchus star catalog.

Dr Victor Gisemberg, historian of paleosciences at the CNRS says:

I think this dispels doubts about the existence of the Hipparchus catalog and confirms that he tried to measure the coordinates of all visible stars.

The manuscript that hid the parts – the Codex Climaci Rescriptus – is a palimpsest that has been erased and reused. In the past, it contained an astronomical poem with excerpts from Hipparchus’ catalogue. In 2017, researchers from the Early Manuscript Electronics Library in Rolling Hills Estates, California, and Rochester Institute of Technology, New York, took digital images of the manuscript at multiple wavelengths from different angles. This technique is called multispectral imaging and is used to analyze palimpsests and other damaged books. Light reflecting off or making the old ink shine highlights the hidden text.

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Extracts from Hipparchus’ star catalog refute the widely held view that Claudius Ptolemy’s star catalog is merely a “copy” of Hipparchus’ because the observations of the four constellations are different. Furthermore, Hipparchus’ data has been verified to the nearest degree, making his catalog much more accurate than that of Ptolemy, despite the fact that it was written several centuries earlier.