The ancient Greek computer more than 1000 years ago was able to accurately predict the motions of the planets and stars, even as they appear to be moving backward across the sky. New search found.
The Antikythera Mechanism was discovered in a shipwreck off the coast of Greece in the early 20th century.
Archaeologists immediately suspected it was some kind of astronomical clock, but discovered that it may have been a renaissance in origin due to its complexity.
It wasn’t until the second half of the twentieth century that researchers realized that it dated back to ancient Greece – possibly around 100 BC – 200 BC – and that it accurately tracked the movement of the sun and moon, and predicted when an eclipse would occur.
No other machine of this complexity has been found dating that far, the technology was lost until the late Middle Ages.
It was discovered that the Antikythera Mechanism also tracked the movements of Venus and Saturn – including when their orbit, when viewed from Earth, appeared to be traveling backward across the sky.
Until now, no one knew that the ancient Greeks possessed this kind of astronomical knowledge, let alone how to program it into an analog computer – leaving researchers in awe.
“Classical astronomy originated in the first millennium BC in Babylon, but nothing in this astronomy suggests how the ancient Greeks found the high-resolution 462-year cycle of Venus and the 442-year cycle of Saturn,” said a PhD candidate and Antikythera research team at the University of California. Member of Aris Dacanalis.
Evidence discovered using X-rays revealed that the mechanism, found in chunks, mapped the orbits of all other planets known to the ancient Greeks as well.
“After a major struggle, we were able to match the evidence in fragments A and D to the mechanism of Venus, which exactly represents the relationship of the planetary period of 462 years, with the 63-tooth gear playing an important role,” said team member David Higgons. .
The researchers say the next step is to build an actual recreation of the Antikythera Mechanism – something they admit will be difficult, even with modern technology.
“A particular challenge will be the interlocking tube system that carries the astronomical products,” said study co-author Adam Wujick.
The research was published this week in Scientific Reports.
He concludes, “Our work reveals the Antikythera Mechanism as a beautiful concept, which translates with exquisite engineering into an ingenious device.”
“It challenges all of our preconceptions about the technological capabilities of the ancient Greeks.”