The Antikythera Mechanism, an incredible 2,000-year-old artifact that became the earliest known analog computer, has captured the imagination of the public and experts alike since it was recovered from an ancient Mediterranean shipwreck more than of a century.
Over the decades, researchers have unraveled the mysteries of this beautiful object, which used a sophisticated system of gears to track cultural events, such as the Olympics, and to predict the movements of celestial bodies along the Saros cycle. , a cycle of 18 years. period punctuated by lunar and solar eclipses.
Recent studies have unveiled dazzling digital reconstructions of the mechanism and identified its complex inner workings, even though much of the artifact has eroded or been lost during its long burial under the sea. the hypothesis that the mechanism was designed or invented by Archimedes, the famous Syracusan polymath who lived in the 3rd century BC.
Now a team led by Aristeidis Voulgaris, a researcher based at the Culture and Tourism Directorate of Thessaloniki in Greece, has revealed another new chapter in the evolutionary history of this ancient computer. According to a recent study published on the arXiv preprint server.
“The special design, the very large number of parts and the complex construction of the Antikythera Mechanism lead to the conclusion that it was used to measure/calculate the presentation time of the results/calculations exported via its pointers and scales”, said Voulgaris. ‘ team in the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed. “It is evident that the maker of the Mechanism designed/constructed his creation and engraved the specific events of the Saros eclipse sequence, for a specific initial era/date.”
Indeed, the Saros cycle is explicitly integrated into the design of the Antikythera mechanism in the form of a spiral dial that predicts lunar and solar eclipses. Researchers have already tried to turn back the clock, with a previous study identifying an eclipse noted by the artifact that occurred on May 12, 205 BC.
Voulgaris and his colleagues arrived at a later date for several reasons, including the positioning of the New Moon phase in the mechanism. They interpret the position of this phase to mean that the Saros cycle would begin with an annular solar eclipse, a celestial event that occurs when the Moon is at its farthest position from Earth. Because of this distance, the Moon does not completely block light from the Sun, causing an effect known as a “ring of fire”.
To test their hypothesis, the team looked at annular solar eclipses that occurred over centuries of ancient Greek history. In particular, they looked for eclipses that coincided with other significant events that could single out a date as a compelling criterion for the mechanism.
Ultimately, the researchers settled on the annular eclipse that graced the skies on Dec. 22, 178 BC, because it featured “a rare coincidence of astronomical events,” according to the study. The eclipse happened one day before the winter solstice, which was a start date for many calendars at that time, and it also coincided with the passage of the Sun into the zodiac sign of Capricorn.
Voulgaris and his colleagues note that the winter solstice is prominently displayed on the mechanism, suggesting that this was an important date for the maker(s) of the artifact. They also point out that these same winter dates marked “the celebration of the religious festival of Isia begun in Egypt and Hellenistic Greece”, a “unique coincidence” which distinguishes this moment as “an ideal, functional and representative initial date, in order to to calibrate the initial position of the Mechanism pointers,” according to the study.
The new study has potentially identified an important benchmark for the workings of the Antikythera Mechanism, although more research will be needed to substantiate the team’s hypothesis and the many other open questions about this puzzling machine and its creators. .
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