Archive for November, 2010

Historical events worth reading about

A couple of interesting articles appeared on New Scientist in past weeks, you will probably need a subscription to read them, so I’ve posted the main theme here:


The scientist pope who lit up the Dark Ages

22 December 2010 by James Hannam – Magazine issue 2792.

AROUND AD 1000, Gerbert of Aurillac served a brief stint as pope. He was not an especially distinguished pontiff and he didn’t reign for very long, yet he is of perennial interest to both academic and popular historians. Why?

The answer can be found in books such as John William Draper’s 1874 History of the Conflict between Religion and Science. In it, Draper characterised the Middle Ages as an era of faith, a time when everyone thought that the Earth was flat. Draper may have been forgotten, but his narrative lives on. And that is what makes Gerbert of Aurillac so fascinating. At a time supposedly devoid of science, here is a medieval pope who was highly proficient in mathematics and astronomy.


Ancient Greeks spotted Halley’s comet

09 September 2010 by Jo Marchant – Magazine issue 2777.

A CELESTIAL event in the 5th century BC could be the earliest documented sighting of Halley’s comet – and it marked a turning point in the history of astronomy.

According to ancient authors, from Aristotle onwards, a meteorite the size of a "wagonload" crashed into northern Greece sometime between 466 and 468 BC. The impact shocked the local population and the rock became a tourist attraction for 500 years.

The accounts describe a comet in the sky when the meteorite fell. This has received little attention, but the timing corresponds to an expected pass of Halley’s comet, which is visible from Earth every 75 years or so.

Philosopher Daniel Graham and astronomer Eric Hintz of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, modelled the path that Halley’s comet would have taken, and compared this with ancient descriptions of the comet (Journal of Cosmology, vol 9, p 3030). __________________________________

Tycho Brahe has regained popularity at this time

Big news surrounding the exhumation of the body of Tycho Brahe – was he indeed poisioned? Read both articles for the full details of what is happening right now:

And even better read this one too:

Interesting… especially in the scope of this course.

The Astrolabe & the Antikythera

The Astrolabe is of interest in showing how much the ancient world knew of astronomy:

And I don’t think we can talk about Ancient Greek Astronomy without considering the Antikythera (around 2nd Century BC):

Although the later probably not really related to ancient astronomy – its still pretty interesting how they applied what they knew.

Here is a recent article published today as a free download on Nature about the Antikythera