More than 2,100 years ago, the Greek astronomer Hipparchus mapped the stars, and for a long time, this was considered humanity’s first attempt to assign numerical coordinates to stellar bodies. But despite his fame, the treatise was only known to exist through the writings of another ancient astronomer named Claudius Ptolemy, who compiled his own celestial inventory some 400 years later.
Until now, that is.
Researchers believe they have found fragments of Hipparchus’ lost historical document hidden in a book of medieval Greek manuscripts.
“This new evidence is the most authoritative to date and allows great progress in the reconstruction of the Hipparchus Star Catalog,” reads a review of the find published in the journal. history of astronomy this week. The discovery could shed new light on the history of astronomy.
Hipparchus, who is also known as the father of trigonometry, is often considered the greatest astronomer of ancient Greece. Parts of his star map appear to have appeared in the Codex Climaci Rescriptus, a book of Syriac texts in which parchment pages were erased so that they could be rewritten, but still bear visible traces of their former form. This particular palimpsest is found in Saint Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.
teams of the Electronic Library of Early Manuscripts and the The Lazarus Project based on the Rochester Institute of Technology revealed the erased text and numbers using different wavelengths of light, a technique known as multispectral imaging.
Researchers from the Sorbonne University and the University of Cambridge were able to decipher the descriptions of four constellations. Not only did this seem to reveal the mapping of Hipparchus, but the team also says that the newly revealed numerical evidence is very consistent with real stellar coordinates.
This would make the Hipparchus Catalog more accurate than Ptolemy’s much later version, although the researchers acknowledge that they are working with a small sample and that there could be significant errors in parts of the Hipparchus Star Catalog that have not survived.
As cutting-edge digital technologies continue to recover vital bits of cultural heritage lost through damaged and deteriorated documents or deliberate erasure, scientists say the Codex Climaci Rescriptus could yet reveal even more of Hipparchus’ stellar observations.
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